This I Believe

Dennis - Cedarburg, Wisconsin
Entered on July 28, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
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Essay for “This I Believe”

In a world where cruelty threatens to crush the human spirit, I believe in kindness.

My mother was a product of cruelty and she carried on her family’s tradition by beating her children. I, the younger of two sons, was usually her target.

At the age of 6, in a dark closet in my parents’ television room, I learned that I could hold the doorknob of that closet with both hands and brace my knee against the jamb while my enraged mother pulled, screamed and ranted at me, her wooden paddle in hand.

I know now that the woman on the other side was a deeply troubled soul who made her way in life by blaming others for her own emotional woes. When the door wouldn’t open, she’d rush around the room, screaming for me to come out. After an hour or so, she’d tire and lose interest.

I learned I didn’t have to suffer her brutality. And I learned that, in a world in which many humans are defined by the harm that they do to others, I could be kind to myself by taking refuge.

Eventually, my mother quit pursuing. And as my world widened, I met teachers, counselors and friends who showed me kindness. It soothed many of the old wounds of my early life. I came to value it and to extend it to others.

As a result, I try to show that kindness to another human being every day.

Sometimes, it’s dropping an extra dollar bill into a plastic box for the barista who draws my morning coffee. Sometimes it’s making a meal and bringing it to my co-workers, who brighten my days with their irreverent humor. And sometimes, it’s writing a note to someone who’s suffering quietly.

Whether that person suffers at the hands of another human being or from the unavoidable cruelty of fate, I believe that my kindness can lessen their pain.

Even if it’s only for a few moments.