"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- 'Goddamn it, you've got to be kind.'"
-- Kurt Vonnegut, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater"
Sadly, I've not yet read this book, though I've read at least two others by Mr. Vonnegut. It's interesting to me how I've held onto that quotation for years now. I read it at some point in college; it was probably on a poster or t-shirt or other inspirational wearable/hangable they sell in college bookstores.
I dutifully wrote it down in the quote book that my boyfriend and I used to pass back and forth, sighing and whispering at each other in the tone you can only use in those long distance college relationships when you've still got to wait another thirty-four days before you see each other again and so you [censored for my mother's eyes] on the phone to each other, and this is the height of intimacy.
The boyfriend, the quotebook, and the desire to do naughty things over the phone are long gone, but the quote remains. It's a bit tattered actually; it took me a while to find it because I'd misremembered some of the language and I didn't know the original source.
When Kurt Vonnegut died a year ago today, I really got thinking deeply about this quote.
Particularly in the world the way I see it sometimes nowadays, both in the rush of in person and the craziness of the internet and the lure of reality TV, it struck me recently that kindness doesn't present itself in current culture to be much of a virtue. Insults, sarcasm, pointing or sharing blame come up so frequently in what I see.
And yet, what do I remember?
I remember a teacher that I didn't know very well see me burst into tears in the hallway after saying good bye to a student that was moving away. She came over immediately and hugged me. We didn't know each other very well -- let alone well enough to hug each other -- but she did.
I remember a woman I'd never seen or met before in my life offer to buy my entire first grade class an $18 bag of peaches that they were dying to eat, just because she was so impressed with the way they handled themselves in the store.
I remember watching one of my students give up the chance for a coveted job in the classroom just to help another student feel a little bit better on a morning when he could have fallen apart.
I remember so many of you. So many little, tiny infusions of kindness that fill the spaces inside me and seep out as reminders when I'm feeling distraught.
Always, always, I remember kindness.
The word "kindness" in my mind is almost inextricably linked to Vonnegut's quote, so I think of it on a pretty regular basis.
I have thirty-some years in this job. At roughly twenty students per year, I figure I've got 600 students to connect with and 180 days with which to do it.
And if I can't help to infuse the very essence of why it's important to be kind... well, then I really shouldn't be doing this.