On the early afternoon of September 11, 2001, I left my home to pick up my son at his elementary school. I had been emotional during most of the morning as I watched the tragedy of that day unfold. As I walked out of my front door, I saw my Afghani neighbor also leave to pick up her children. As we walked together and talked of the events, we wept. We talked of our dreams and fears for our children and for our nations and our world.
My neighbor and I have lived different lives. I was protected from violence and destruction and danger. As a teenager, she walked to Pakistan to escape threats to her family. Our religions are different. Our cultures are different. But we are dear friends and recognize in each other many things in common: our motherhood, our desire to help make our neighborhood friendly, our struggles with daily life, our reverence for God. Through this relationship and many others I have discovered that genuine kindness and compassion, expressed in smiles, conversations, shared cookies or flatbread, even leaning on each other in times of distress, can change lives and create deeply meaningful bonds between people who may have been strangers just a short time before.
My mother was the first to teach me this lesson. As a child, I lived in an anonymous Southern California city, where many people drift past each other without forming any kind of bond, any kind of community. My mother, however, created relationships left and right. As a teenager, I was a little embarrassed when I would go to the dry cleaners or the grocery store and my mother would introduce me to the man behind the counter or the checkout lady. She knew their names and their stories and they knew her. These simple moments of unfeigned interest, of reaching out to relate to those around us, of building relationships, have stayed with me.
I believe if all of us lived kinder lives, if we opened our hearts to those around us as my mother did, even those most different from us, our world would be better. I believe that caring for others and trying to understand them is a key to ending hatred and fear and creating the community so many of us crave.
I have lived a typical suburban American life. I have little experience with the wide world. But I believe that when I live with kindness, with understanding, with love, my suburban outer life becomes the mere trappings of a truly global inner life, that I can meet a brother or sister on any street in any city in the world and find myself at home.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.