My last blog was about Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, and two people I care about asked me if I was okay, noting this particular entry at A View from this Wilderness was a bit dark; and it was, they’re right. I tried to write that piece in second person in an effort to point the diagnosis out toward the reader, but it was difficult to remain in the background on a subject close to my life. Their simple inquiry brought to light something common: often we don’t even realize we’ve slipped into a dark place, a malaise, a lack of presence. It just happens while we’re hyper-focused on something else. Then someone says, “Hey, you okay?” Wow, how much that means, and most people have no idea that those “little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love” as Wordsworth called them, can quite literally save lives.
It takes only that for the ones in the dark to shake their psyche and take a breath and return to some form of balance.
It really does work, you know. The dollar to the dude with the sign, a nod to a stranger standing outside a store in winter, looking in; holding the door, saying thank you, the small things, the activities of a person who is present, who is awake each moment. It is so easy considering it is so rare; Rousseau said the most important lesson any child can learn is simply this: “Never hurt anybody.” Okay, and then throw in a few kind words and really make an impact. I promise you, the one who seems fine might very well not be; but more than this is how little it takes to absolutely grab a soul who is down without knowing why and set them right again. No kidding, it is so easy. The funny thing is when you do these things, recognize others, it lifts your spirits as well—imagine, two people pulling each other up in a matter of moments because one of them was present enough to acknowledge the other. Blaise Pascal wrote that “kind words cost nothing but accomplish much.” Yep.
It’s snowing again, and a bit of sleet. Tomorrow night will be one to three inches, which for most of the reading world is laughable as “accumulation,” but for those of us in coastal Virginia, we understand the lunacy on the roads when locals head to 711 in the same driving fashion they use in summer after watching a NASCAR race. But it is beautiful, to put it mildly. The holly and laurel green are covered in white, and cardinals looking for food find refuge in these and the evergreens. A friend just wrote that there’s something about a cardinal in a pine in winter that fills his soul—yes, exactly.
And this is what I’m talking about: the simple things, the generous offerings of natural beauty, the deep-woven connections of conversations and laughter with friends or family. Whatever depression or indifference one may carry without obvious cause, without visible scars, can so easily be chased to the margins by the simplest of moments and the seemingly fleeting kindness of others. They have no idea, they really have no idea of the impact they have on one floundering. Some think it takes hours of therapy and years of acclimation, and perhaps it does for so many, but equally it takes seconds, and most of us know that, but we forget.
You know someone in a nursing facility? A quick call to say, “I can’t stay on but I was thinking of you and wanted to say hi,” can illuminate the darkest of afternoons. Bertrand Russell said to “remember your humanity, forget everything else.”
This must be true now more than ever, when isolation is standard, when even a hug is seemingly forbidden, and we can’t even smile at each other when masks are in play. Sometimes I get so down I forget to look up on a clear night and remind myself how easy it is to find beauty, but also how easy it is to be kind, and to remind myself that as Emerson said, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.”
“Are you okay?” These words are oxygen, they’re pain relievers, they’re anti-depressants. What can be a normal phrase to one person is an umbilical to new life for someone else. We too often don’t even consider common concern to be uncommon, but it is.
I’ll be down again, indifferent, and completely unambitious, but not right now, not the least of reasons being two people asked how I was. And, recalling Sophocles who wrote that “kindness gives birth to kindness,” I made a few calls, held a few doors—was human, that’s all, but for so many who don’t even realize they’re slipping into somewhere else, somewhere darker, that’s everything.