Thoughts on the power of gentleness

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I took a few days with the woman I love and went down to Cape Cod earlier this week.

It wasn’t an ideal beach week. Mostly it rained. It was coldish. Windy. A good time to stay in. We wandered a bit. Walked the beach till our ears froze. Visited the few shops open in Provincetown. Ate some good seafood one night. Ate in another.

We spent a lot of time in, actually. We stayed in this little dollhouse of a cottage wedged in between two houses, half a block from the beach and the main street of shops and restaurants. There was a wine shop at the end of the road run by a wonderful older German fellow who clapped his hands in glee as I picked a bottle of German wine for the night. “So good!” he said. “So very good.” (It was.).

Since we spent so much time in we could have spent the same time curled up together on our own sofa for a lot less. But I think there is value in going away from where we are and letting a different ambiance surround you and fill your senses.

It creates new memories. New thoughts. You run into new people. You hear new stories that make you think in new ways.  We ate breakfast each day in a little diner kind of place near the fishing piers. Last fall when we were there last, there was a fire in that stretch of shops and hotels. Several restaurants were destroyed, and the diner took on some damage. But they had it up and running in three weeks. We heard the whole story from the woman at the register.

While we ate breakfast, there was a flow of people in and out. We seemed to be the only visitors. Fishermen came in before heading out to sea, rough-hewn and solid. A few couples, both heterosexual and gay came in for coffee and a sandwich.

There were three women who worked there, a young white woman about to give birth to her third child (She looked 12, which says more about my age than hers.), a middle-aged back woman in dreds, and an older woman who looked like she had been there since the Pilgrims landed.  They were laughing and talking and so enjoying each other.

I think that is part of what I like about Provincetown. It is not just a tolerant town. It’s an accepting town. People are just liked for who they are, not for what they are. They seem to have made some sort of collective decision that people are simply to be liked and loved, differences and all.

On the drive back, I thought about my own experience in life. I’ve had my share of people hating me. Or worse, people loving me, but unable to express anything but the negative.  Most of us have. We experience it in the streets, in our families, at work (or while seeking work.), in politics, and even, I hate to say as a part-time preacher, in some churches.

I’ve never understood that need to tear down. I didn’t when I was a clumsy six-year-old kid being berated by my father for my ineptness. I didn’t when as a college kid, I was caught in the middle of terrible racial intolerance. I’ve never known why we had to tear others down, whether it was me, or others.

I am not naive. I know it’s the way of the world. How could you miss that? It runs deep. It seems ingrained in us. The first bit of pressure and it erupts. But the need to reduce others to something less than human? To forget they are people with feelings, histories, and their own long list of brokenness and amazingness?

I know its there. I don’t get it.

I loved our few days at the Cape, even if we were holed up in our dollhouse cottage much of the time.  Both the woman I love and I have had to learn to love differently since we found each other. Both of us came from situations rife with negativity and years of that left its toll on each of us. We have had to learn to trust love and trust each other anew, to understand that this love is new and not the same thing as what we lived in the past.

It’s a beautiful thing this new love we have, but it did not come instantly or even easily. We had a lot to unlearn and we learned to trust each other with our emotions and hearts. It was a choice. The reward has been remarkable.

I was thinking about the choice side of acceptance and kindness and encouragement. I thought about the need and willingness to unlearn human habits.

Don’t get me wrong. I am sure there are people in Provincetown who don’t like each other. I am sure there are people there who live lifestyles I don’t approve of.  But no one seems to let that get in the way of a general acceptance of each other as people. People who matter. Who have value. People with stories to tell and journeys to make.

I am a Christian. As I read the bible, I see a Christ who was unfailingly kind to people who were searching. He asked them pointed questions at times. He told them what he thought when they asked questions. It was not always the answer they wanted. He dealt with people his own society and his own religion had discarded as unclean and unworthy. Hated for what they were, not who they were. The only time he got terribly angry was at hypocritical religious leaders who forgot that people, all people were God’s creation just like they were.

It frustrates me that some in some churches don’t follow that Christ. They are judgment first instead of love first. In my mind, an in my studies in seminary and beyond, it seems simple, but there are so many Christians that don’t feel that way, don’t act that way that I wonder sometimes if I have it wrong.

We have so much to unlearn to make room for kindness and acceptance, and at this point in our country, the gentle voice of belief in all people’s value is being outshouted by angry men with platforms and power. Hate and bullying and dismissal of people who are not white and wealthy and like “us” is slowly becoming the norm.

Kindness and acceptance is not flashy. It takes a while for it to sink in, to be believed. But it’s worth the work. It’s worth being conscious about. Intentional.

There is so much love in this world. There is so much kindness. I see it all the time. The woman I love, who is a social worker, sees it all the time. Small, loving, accepting kindnesses. Everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. People mostly are kind. They are quiet in it. Not splashy.

But we have something to unlearn. We kind folks sometimes have a tendency to wilt in the face of anger. Often, like me, it goes back to our childhoods. Or perhaps we have been verbally or physically battered in our past. But angry men (or women), intimidate us. We are cowed.

We need to find our voice. One of the things I’ve learned in my own journey is that when angry people are faced down by kind people, mostly, it’s the angry ones that blink. You see, they know that the anger and prejudice they hold is wrong. They may fight back harder at first, but when kindness stands strong, the bullies back down.

We need to find our voice, and keep adding one voice to the other. As I travel the countryside, I have come to believe that we are not a country of hate. There are hatemongers among us, on both sides of every issue. I’ve been attacked (verbally) for being too spiritual by some people and attacked (again, verbally) for my accepting stance of people in the LGBT community.

Pretty much, no matter what side we are on, someone is going to disagree with us.

But we don’t have to hate. We don’t have to forget we’re all God’s children. Most of us are doing the best we can with our particular brokenness. We are worth knowing. Worth listening to. Worth caring about.

But there is so much to unlearn. And maybe the first thing is that kindness and gentleness mean weak.

They do not. My experience has told me that kindness and acceptance are far more powerful than hate. Kindness and acceptance take a beating in the beginning rounds, but by the end of the fight, hate burns itself out, and it is the gentle who go back to building and restoring.

Brick by brick.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

 

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the power of gentleness

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