I have been uninspired. I have not written in several weeks. Maybe it is the business of this time of year. Perhaps it is my own inability to carve out the stillness and quiet that I need for writing. It might just be my own holiday blues and the slump and sadness that I have found myself in for the past few weeks.
While the road to winter break in my own classroom has been filled with wonderful learning and the energy that only the days leading to a school vacation can possibly create, I have just not been able to sit down and write. Every free moment that I have had, has been spent reading. I could handle that. But, I needed a different kind of energy, a different kind of inspiration to write. To produce. And I simply couldn’t find it.
Today, I got stuck in the snow. Literally. Yesterday, Chicago was blanketed in the strangest kind of snow. There was a day-long downpour of heavy slush that accumulated on the ground in inches. After a week of unseasonably warm weather, it was strange to all of a sudden find ourselves right in the middle of winter, where we had been all along, but not really realized it.
I think we all sort of hoped that the snow would melt on its own, since it was still fairly warm out for this time of year. But, alas, we woke up and the snow was still around us. My daughter convinced me early on this morning that the appropriate thing to do was to go out and play in the thick slush. So out we went.
While we were outside, I shoveled. This was not the kind of light and fluffy snow that makes shoveling a manageable task. It was heavy and the process was exhausting. We then went back inside to rest before heading out to my sister’s house. When we got back into the car, thirty minutes later, we were both fairly exhausted already. And then when I went to pull out from my spot on the street, we didn’t go anywhere. We were stuck. Though the snow was not that high, it was simply too heavy and too icy for my car to navigate through.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been stuck in the snow with a toddler before. But it is rather difficult to explain why you are not moving. Why she wasn’t moving any closer to being able to play with her cousins, which was all she had been looking forward to for at least the last forty-five minutes.
I tried everything I knew how to do. My wife was at work and so I was left to figure this one out on my own. I ran in the house to grab the shovel. I shoveled away some of the snow. I patiently rocked the car back and forth. I not-so-patiently stepped on the gas so that the pedal was pushed completely against the floor of my car.
We were stuck.
And then. From his house across the street, a neighbor of mine walked out his front door. “You almost had it!” He called as he pulled on his own mittens.
Now let me tell you, my family and I, we pretty much suck as neighbors. Because both my wife and I loathe small talk, we don’t make much conversation with those who live around us. I know this bad. I know how it must look. But the truth is, we just aren’t all that social and so we make pretty lousy neighbors. In the five years that we have lived in our current house, I have managed to learn the names of only three of the people who live on our street. This man was not one of them.
And yet. He walked over to me, this man who must be far into his sixties, and he said to me, “Go ahead and turn your wheels all the way to the left and I will push.” I tried to protest. But after waving to my daughter in the back seat, he insisted.
So I got back into my car and I did what he told me to do. And this man pushed. From where I was sitting, this man, whose name I didn’t even know, appeared to push with every ounce of energy that he had within him. At first we continued to just be stuck. But then, on the third of fourth try, we moved. We moved far enough that my wheels gained traction and we went flying out of our spot. I rolled down my window and with tears in my eyes, I thanked this kind, kind man. I made sure he was okay and then we were on our way.
From the back seat, as we drove away, I heard my daughter say, “That was so nice of that man to help us.”
And then I just cried.
You see, this year I have struggled to find kindness in our world. This year, I have seen such hatred that it has been hard for me to even believe that much kindness still exists. This year, I have seen the kind of hate that is so far engrained in people that they don’t even realize that it is there. This year, the world has shown me time and time again that maybe we aren’t really getting any closer to the equality that we all say we are fighting for.
As I search this world to try and find images of kindness to show to my daughter, to help her to see what kindness looks like, I often come up short.
And then a moment like this happens. A man leaves the warmth of his own home for no other reason than to help somebody out. He didn’t take a picture of it to post on Facebook. He didn’t expect anything in return. He certainly knew he wasn’t going to get anything out of this. He was simply being kind.
And in that moment, even my almost-three-year-old knew that we were witnessing kindness. This is what kindness looks like. A sixty-year-old man, pulling on his gloves, walking out into the cold and helping someone in need.
That kind of kindness. I need to stop and notice it more often.
I would never wish to stop noticing the unkindness in the world, for if we do not notice it, then we cannot be aware of it and we cannot fight to change it. I want to keep my eyes open to the injustice and help open the eyes of my students to the injustice as well. Because I truly believe that noticing what is wrong in the world and looking for ways to change it is one of the most important things that we can ask our students to do.
However, as we head into the new year, I also want to recommit myself to noticing kindness. I want to be more aware of the people in this world, just like my neighbor, who every single day go out of their way to do good.
And I also want to recommit myself to creating moments of kindness for others with the actions that I chose to take and the words that I chose to speak. I want to do more to fill this world with images of kindness because if we all did that then it would be easier for all of us to teach our children what it means to be kind.
It is so easy to feel helpless in this world that often appears to be so filled with hate. It’s been easy for me to be overwhelmed by it all. But what I think I have forgotten is that while I may not have the power to rid the world of the hate that exists, I do have the power to notice and create more images of kindness in this world.
And that is my own personal goal for 2016.