find someone who is kind

My grandma likes to tell a story about the first time she met my dad. At this point, my parents had been dating for almost two years and were engaged to be married in a matter of months. Shortly after my mom went off to college, my grandpap got transferred from California to Delaware for his job. Rather than being a few hours’ drive away, my grandparents were now living across the country. They knew about my dad, of course. Grandpap had met him once when he was out in California for work and visited UCSB. But my grandma had never met my dad when my mom called with the big news that she was engaged.

Grandma had never met my dad… but she discovered that she did know his parents. In an incredible small-world coincidence, all four of my grandparents attended the same small college of Wittenburg in Springfield, Ohio right after WWII. Grandma, Grandpap, and Grandma Auden were all in the same class; Gramps was a few years older. They were in different fraternities and sororities, but they were acquaintances who had some close friends in common. Then they graduated, got married, lost touch, and had children. Both families separately moved from Ohio to Southern California in the early 1970’s. My parents grew up just a couple hours away from each other, in Ventura and Northridge. Then my parents each chose to attend UCSB, and met each other at a party around Christmastime through mutual friends.

My grandma was comforted to realize that the man her daughter had fallen in love with was Jim & Audrey’s son. When the two sets of parents were reunited before the wedding, Auden pulled Grandma aside and said, “Don’t worry, Mary Lou. He is very kind.”

Kind is definitely one of the first words I would use to describe my father. He is gentle, thoughtful, compassionate, and loving. This past Easter, when I was visiting my parents and had to get my blood drawn {which is always an ordeal for me with my tiny veins} he sat beside me and held my hand. He slips cards into my purse just as he used to slip notes into my lunchbox. He and my mom have shown me that kindness is a source of strength.

So it is perhaps not a surprise that when I was looking for the person I would share my life with, the first word at the top of my list was kind. I wanted to find a partner who was kind, gentle, and compassionate. Who made me feel understood and loved, even when I didn’t understand or love myself. Who would be a beacon of comfort in a world that can, at times, be a very harsh place.

{photo credit Allyson McAuley}

When I came across Allyn’s photo on an online dating website, I was immediately drawn to his kind smile. I felt that quiet kindness emanating through his spirit on our first date, when he looked at me with his smiling eyes and listened attentively to all my stories. Kindness was the first quality that drew me to him. And, years later, it remains the quality of his that I am most grateful for.

I don’t think kindness gets much attention in the language we use to discuss romance. We talk about mystery and intrigue; sex appeal and beauty; passion and attraction. And all of those things are important. But I do think that, as a society, we focus too much on the “flashier” traits that are on the surface. Those traits that lessen over time as you build a life together, as you grow older together, as you let each other in on the secret intricacies and intimacies of your true selves. Allyn is less of a mystery to me now than when we met, and I am surely less of a mystery to him. Instead of meeting up for a dinner date all gussied up, he sees me when I am sick and when I am tired and when I have just woken up in the morning with crusty eyes and messy hair. When that whirlwind of initial romance ebbs into a steady partnership, and that newness melts away into the familiar, what you’re left with is the bedrock of your connection with each other.

To me, it is most important that it be a foundation built on kindness.

I am witness to my husband’s kindness every single day. When he comes up behind me and gives me a hug for no reason. When he opens the car door for me or insists on carrying in most of the groceries. When he traps the spider and carries it outside rather than killing it. The way he sends thank-you notes and mails birthday cards. The sweet way he hugs my grandma whenever we see her. I hear the kindness in his voice on the phone — not just when he talks to me, but also when he’s on the phone with his mom or his sister. When we go visit his great-aunt Flo and take her grocery shopping, and Allyn holds her purse so she won’t lose it, gently guiding the cart through the aisles to find her oranges and graham crackers and milk. I feel the warmth of his kindness every time he holds my hand when we walk down the street, or pauses to say hello to a neighbor, or picks up a piece of litter that had blown out of someone’s trash can.

I am so proud of his kindness. So proud to be married to him.

 

When Allyn and I first moved in together, I was concerned about keeping our “spark” alive. I didn’t want us to descend into roommates, losing any semblance of mystery or romance. I refrained from doing certain grooming tasks like plucking my eyebrows or trimming my fingernails around him. We never left the door open while peeing. When we dressed up to go on date nights, I would get dressed by myself in our bedroom so I could open the door and make my entrance. {I still like to do this — it’s just more fun that way!}

We made it through almost our first two years of living together, and the first year and a half of our marriage, before we broke these rules. Or, should I say, transcended them. When I underwent emergency surgery due to an ectopic pregnancy, suddenly I needed my husband in a way I never had before. I woke up in the hospital bed after my surgery, and I glimpsed a new layer of love in Allyn’s eyes. He kept telling me, “All that matters is that you’re okay.” That evening, before I was able to go home, the nurses wanted me to use the restroom. I felt too unsteady to walk across the hall by myself, plus I was attached to an IV pole with cumbersome wires. So Allyn held my hand and helped me slowly shuffle into the restroom. He held my arms and helped me sit down on the toilet. He stood right there as I peed. I realized I was breaking that cardinal rule I had set when we moved in together. I had believed that peeing in front of each other would be the furthest thing from romance. But, in that cold hospital bathroom, as my husband bent down to help me pull my panties back up, I felt more connected to him than I ever had before. It was a beautifully romantic moment in an ocean of grief.

In the following days and weeks, my husband’s steady kindness became my well of comfort. He helped me out of bed in the middle of the night to take my pills, then gently helped me lie back down into bed. He dried my legs off after I showered because I wasn’t supposed to bend down yet. He brought me saltine crackers and popsicles and refilled my water glass. He stroked my hair and told me how beautiful I was and how amazed he was by my strength. In those days and weeks of healing, I felt stripped down to my barest self. And my husband gazed with awe at that raw, vulnerable part of me and said, “I have never loved you more than I do right now.”

It was not the stuff of romance novels. It was not the scenes I dreamed about on those lonely nights when I was single, imagining my future husband. But since going through that trying and intimate experience together, our attraction to each other has only grown and deepened. Allyn’s kindness makes me fall more and more in love with him every day.

 

I still close the bathroom door when I pluck my eyebrows and trim my nails and pee. I still hope that I retain a bit of mysterious intrigue in my husband’s eyes. But, one of the sweetest moments of our nightly routine comes right before we turn out the bedroom light, when Allyn says, “Ready for me to do your eyes?” I have dry eyes, so my doctor recommended putting in these nighttime eye drops. It is more like an eye gel, much harder than putting in normal eye drops, and I am terribly unsuccessful at doing it to myself. After witnessing me poking myself in the eye and squeezing eye gel onto the bridge of my nose, Allyn said, “Would you like me to help you with that?” So now, every night, I hold open my eyelids while he carefully puts the gel into each of my eyes.

My sweet, thoughtful, kind husband. I feel so lucky to have him. I am so glad I picked him, and he picked me.

Every night, I blink my wet eyes, put the tube of eye drops back down on my bedside table, and turn onto my side. Allyn flips off the light and kisses me goodnight. His hand finds mine under the covers as we drift off to sleep together.

To me, it doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following prompts:

  • What traits are most important to you in a partner? Why?
  • Write about a time someone has shown you kindness. What happened? What did it mean to you?
  • Write about an experience when you were forced to be vulnerable around someone else. What happened? What did you learn from the experience?
  • Think about some of the most romantic experiences in your life. Would they be considered conventionally romantic? Did any of them surprise you?

on toughness, empathy + being gentle with yourself

When I was in high school, I played on the basketball team for two years. I’ve loved basketball since I was a little girl playing for youth teams, where the coaches would sometimes bring boom-boxes to blast music during warm-ups. In elementary school I spent many recesses playing H-O-R-S-E and pick-up games with the boys. At home, we had a basketball hoop in our driveway and I found a sense of calm in the hours I spent after my homework was done, practicing my shot, my dribbling, my lay-ups, until the daylight faded away to dusk and it was time to come in for dinner. Track and cross-country are close contenders, but basketball might still be my favorite sport. I love the team camaraderie. I love the fast-paced energy of the game. I love elegance of shooting, that clean feeling when you release the ball from your hand and just know it’s going in, and then the joy of that SWISH through the net.

My freshman year of high school, I was so excited when I made the Frosh-Soph girls basketball team. Immediately, I felt welcomed and my confidence blossomed. The sophomore girls on the team were so friendly and they took me into their fold. We worked hard in practice, but the ultimate goal was to have fun. I played center or power forward, so I never dribbled the ball much. But I remember one game in particular when, for whatever reason, the defender wasn’t guarding me until I reached the half-court line. So Coach told me to dribble the ball up the court each play, and I did it successfully. I was nervous at first, because I never thought I could be a point guard! But after that game, I felt like I could do anything. Like I didn’t have to box myself into a specific role. And, the more confident I felt in myself, the better I played.

Then, mid-way through the season, the Varsity coach decided to move a girl on the JV team up to Varsity, and to move me up to the JV team. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I felt honored to be chosen, but it was a difficult situation to move into a new team partway through the season. I was the new girl at the bottom of the totem pole, playing with girls older than me and better than me who already had built their own team dynamics—on and off the court. On the Frosh-Soph team I had started every game, but now on the JV squad I sat on the bench and felt lucky to play a couple minutes. My confidence tanked, but I still tried my best to be positive and work hard.

The biggest obstacle was my new coach. A nice man off the court, during practices and games he would yell constantly. I have never been inspired by yelling. The coach constantly berated me for not being “tough” enough, and it seemed like nothing I did could convince him otherwise. No amount of showing up early for “optional” practices, busting my butt during block-out drills, or hustling up and down the court changed his option of me—that I was a nice, “soft” girl who needed to “toughen up.” It is true that I have never been an ultra-competitive person. To me, playing basketball was as much a contest against myself—to continue working hard and improving my own game—as it was a contest against the other team. I didn’t have that desire to crush my opponents, and if we lost, I shook it off pretty easily. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t tough.

As I entered my sophomore year, I hoped for more stature and confidence on the JV team. Yet, the situation was pretty much unchanged from the season before. During each game, I sat on the bench, my knees jiggling. I yearned to play, but I was also filled with nerves—I worried about making a mistake and being yanked out of the game, banished to the bench again. I tried to remain confident in myself and my abilities, but it was hard.

One game will be forever etched into my memory. This was the turning point when I knew that I would not go out for the team again the following year. I just couldn’t handle the emotional toil anymore. It wasn’t worth it.

This particular game wasn’t an especially important one. It wasn’t a playoff game, nor was it a game against the rival high school across town. Personally, it was an important game to me because our family friend, my Uncle Wayne, was in town and he was planning to attend the game with my parents. I looked up to Uncle Wayne very much {I still do!} and wanted to impress him. I hoped that I would get some playing time to show my best effort.

It was a close game. In the second quarter, Coach put me in. I don’t remember much of the next few minutes. It’s possible I scored a basket or two. It’s possible I made some passes. Someone on my team fouled a player on the opposing team in the act of shooting, so we all lined up for free-throws. Since the other team was shooting, my team got to line up on the innermost spots. The player shot the first free-throw. I bent my knees, elbows out, preparing to box out for the rebound if the second free-throw was a miss.

It was. I successfully boxed out my player. But another player—a guard from the other team, who had not been boxed-out—swept in and grabbed the rebound.

Immediately, my coach was screaming. He called a time-out and we all hustled for the bench. I was not prepared for what happened next.

Coach had yelled at me before. Not just me—he yelled at all the players. He had pulled me out of the game before. He had expressed displeasure and disappointment. But it was nothing like this. Loudly, leaning right in my face, he screamed at me for not getting the rebound. He screamed that it was all my fault that we were losing. He screamed that I was “killing” the team, that I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I wasn’t tough enough.

I was completely caught off guard because I had boxed out my player. I didn’t expect that I had done something wrong. I didn’t think I had made a mistake. But even if I had—even if I had purposefully dribbled the wrong way down the court and deliberately scored two points for the other team—his verbal outrage would have been completely out of bounds. I realize that now. A grown man yelling in red-faced rage at a sixteen-year-old girl is never okay. Especially in front of her peers and her community.

I would learn later that it took every ounce of self-control for my father not to run down from the bleachers and yank me away from that screaming man. He didn’t want to embarrass me or cause any more of a scene. And he knew how much I loved basketball. He didn’t want to jeopardize that for me. But he—and my mom, and my brother, and Uncle Wayne—were appalled. He tried to catch my eye, so he could thump his chest with his fist in our signal for “I love you. You’re doing great.” But I wouldn’t look at him.

The reason why I wouldn’t look at my dad, or my mom or brother or Uncle Wayne, or anyone in the bleachers, was because I was ashamed. Already, as I took my place at the end of the bench and avoided my teammates’ eyes, I was internalizing my coach’s words. He was in a position of power and he was telling me that I was a loser, and in that moment I believed him. I believed that everyone in the bleachers, including my parents, saw things the way he did. Everyone thought that I was “killing” the team. Everyone thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. Everyone thought I wasn’t tough. Red-hot shame coursed through my veins that I had messed up enough to deserve such a torrential smack-down.

It never crossed my mind that perhaps I didn’t deserve it. That perhaps Coach, not me, was in the wrong. That perhaps everyone sitting on the bleachers was horrified not by my playing, but by his out-of-control outrage.

Later, my parents would comfort me and I would feel better, coming to believe that I had nothing to be ashamed of. Later, they would schedule a meeting with my coach and talk with him about the incident, although he would never apologize. Later, I would decide to end my basketball career and focus on cross-country and track, and later still I would become involved with my high school’s drama department, which was a life-changing experience in the best way. Although I still loved the game of basketball, I did not miss the self-doubt and negativity that came from playing on that team.

These days, I only think of my old coach very occasionally, when I make a mistake and catch the way I’m talking to myself. Not usually, but sometimes, the words that I say to myself could be coming directly out of the screaming mouth of my old coach.

I can’t believe you just did that! What were you thinking? You ruined everything! You’re so stupid! It’s all your fault!

Whenever I catch myself doing this {like that time I spilled green tea all over the table} I feel a punch in my gut. I try to immediately silence that critical voice in my head by taking a few deep breaths. Then I ask myself,

How would you talk to your best friend or one of your students if they were in this situation?

The answer: I most certainly would not yell or berate them. I would treat them with gentleness, compassion, and understanding. I would offer words of encouragement and support. I would tell them that everything was going to be okay. I would build them up by reminding them of their past successes.

My self deserves that same courtesy and love.

Unfortunately, it is likely that every single person reading this has been yelled at before. Perhaps you were yelled at by a parent, or a teacher, or a coach, or a boss. Or perhaps you yell at yourself when you do something wrong. These experiences bury themselves inside us. They can last for a long time, their reverberations rippling outward to the present. {Recent studies have shown the damaging effects that yelling and shouting can have on children and teens—possibly as detrimental as physical hitting.} A friend told me recently that, as a child, he always felt much more at ease when he was over at a friend’s house and their dad was at work. It wasn’t until recently that he realized the reason: his own dad was a frequent yeller who frightened him, and so he was frightened and nervous of his friends’ dads, too. He associated all men with yelling.

It is up to each one of us to break the cycle. Not only in our behavior towards others, but also in the way we treat ourselves.

I do not want to be an angry basketball coach screaming at my self. Instead, I want to be like the coach of my Frosh-Soph team, who made me feel confident enough to be point guard for a game even though I had never played that position before. Who never would have yelled at me, even if I had failed—and, with that knowledge, helped give me the confidence to succeed. I want to talk to myself the way that my dad and mom and brother and Uncle Wayne talked to me that fateful day, taking in the shadows of my shame and erasing them with light. I want to talk to myself the way that Allyn talks to me, centering me with his calm support and love no matter what happens.

After all, that little voice inside my head is powerful. It is the only voice that I hear all day, every day. It never, ever needs to yell to be heard. A gentle, compassionate whisper will do just fine.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Open up your journal or a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • Write about a time when someone yelled at you. What was your response? How can you find peace with this memory and move forward?
  • Write down a list of self-talk phrases you often direct at yourself. Are they positive or negative? How can you be more kind and gentle to yourself? Look at your negative words. What are some loving phrases you could replace them with?
  • Who in your life makes you feel loved and supported? What does this person say to you? Write down these words of affirmation. Can you say them to yourself?