The Importance of Being Kind

Hubby came to me this morning to ask if Kate was OK. She’s not.

She hasn’t been herself for a while now. She seems to be managing the loss of her best friend, Big Sister, over some childish disagreements that occurred last fall. At least, she was managing just fine until the prom pictures hit FB and comments were made. Not that anyone said anything even remotely negative about Kate. She and Little Sister went to prom with several other friends. Before they left, I took pictures of the two of them together. Little’s dress was very elegant and refined and a bit vintage 40’s. Her mom and I agreed that they looked like they had just stepped off some ocean liner from the days before cruise ships, as first-class passengers, of course.

On the surface, Big and Little have patched things up. They used to be very close, just like Kate and Big were, but Kate and Big had been friends for so many more years. And the reconciliation between Big and Little is superficial at best: their relationship is certainly not what it ever was. Back at the FB photos, Big decided to comment on how beautiful Little looked; she made the comment on one of my pictures of Little and Kate.

If you know anything about teenage girls, and just how cruel they can be to each other, then you probably recognize the insult Big laid on Kate by excluding her from the accolades given to Little. Common courtesy dictates that you be polite and not exclude people from conversation, even people you don’t know very well or are currently having relationship issues with. Had the situation been reversed, had someone left a compliment of a photo of Big and a friend, and Big was not included in the compliment, she would pout about it. More likely, she’d throw a hissy fit about it. (Hissy fit: above the Mason-Dixon, that would be ‘temper tantrum’.) I can hear it now, because I’ve heard it before: “Everyone is so mean to me! They deliberately left me out! They could have said ‘You’re BOTH beautiful’ instead of ‘You, Big Sister’s friend, are beautiful, (and you, Big Sister, aren’t worth commenting on.)'”

Kate noticed the comment right away, but said nothing about it until Sunday afternoon. But when she finally decided to talk about it, the floodgates opened, the tears poured, and ten years of suppressed emotion came flowing out: the difficulties of being Big’s friend; enduring her temper tantrums; wondering what she’d done to cause Big to completely ignore her for weeks at a time, incidents so insignificant as to be ridiculous. Here’s one: In middle school, Big wanted Kate to sit next to her on the bus but there was no room in the seat. Kate sat behind her, or in front of her, doesn’t matter. Big did not speak to Kate for 4 weeks after that, until her dad reminded her that she was being petty and needed to remember who her friends, her one real friend, was and always had been. She called Kate and things were resolved. Big has asked for my advice many times. She’s come to me, in tears, usually upset over something her step-mom had said or done. And I held her in my arms like she was my own daughter, let her cry it out, and then talk her through it. I’ve been her mother when she needed one.

Now I am evil. I’ve never been there for her. As a matter of fact, no one in our family has ever really cared about her for as long as we’ve known her–10 years. She used to call Hubby “dad”; she called my mom “Grandma”. Now, Kate is “NOT her friend.” (her words and her emphasis)

So, back to this morning. Hubby is wondering what’s wrong with Kate. Looks to me like she’s working her way through two of the stages of grief. I think she completely skipped “denial” and “bargaining” and is currently working on “anger” and “depression”. “Acceptance” was the only stage Kate didn’t have any qualms about; she immediately accepted the fact that Big was gone from her life. But she’s still grieving. There is a hole in Kate’s heart, ten years big, and it won’t fill itself back up overnight. And Kate’s not the only one working through this. I am currently mired in “anger”. I tried reconciliation between Big and me, to no avail. Big has no intention of reconciling.

Sunday afternoon Kate poured her heart out, about how hard she’d tried over the years to help Big, to be there for her when she needed a friend, about how her efforts were ignored or insulted. Big has had a rough go of it: emotional and physical abuse by her step-mom; her dad works long hours and has little time for her. The list is long and some of it is downright ugly. Looking back on their relationship, I see an emotionally scarred girl, Big Sister, who always needed someone she could put a leash on and control.  She learned that negative attention is better than no attention at all. She learned how to take, but not how to give back. She learned to manipulate other people, but not how to help them. Kate has been the one on the leash, and we’ve all been recipients of Big Sister’s behavior. We’re all hurting. Maybe Big Sister is hurting too. Maybe she’s realizing her destructive behavior has consequences. Maybe she’s ready to address the real issues.

Or it could be that she’s hurting because she keeps burning bridges behind her as she sweeps the people who truly cared for her out of her life like so much trash from the floor? She’s not very adept at building new bridges, and the ones she does build are all one-way. Accidents, some of the fatal, are bound to happen.

I’m proud of Kate’s decision to finally remove the leash. The scars under the collar that bound Kate to Big are still healing and that will take time.


In the meantime, this came from Little Sister yesterday:

“Today, I saw two men. They were on the side of the street. One had a cast and crutches and struggled to walk… The other was strong and generous. He grabbed the guy and slung him on his shoulder. He carried the man down the side walk as we walked by. I have not witnessed such kindness as this until now. If it wasn’t a sign, what was it.”

Well, look at that: a teachable moment.

Dear Kate and Little,

What you witnessed today was an act of kindness. It was someone reaching outside himself, maybe going out of his comfort zone, to help a fellow human being. It’s not hard to do, but it can be scary when you do cross the line that marks the edge of your comfort zone for the first time. Try it. The opportunities are everywhere. You just need to learn to recognize them. If you’re standing in line somewhere, talk to the people around you. You know how many homeless people there are in our little neck of the woods. Next time you and Kate go out for a snack, get an extra one and a bottle of water, and give them to the guy standing at the intersection. Offer to take the shopping cart back to the corral for the young mom with a baby in her arms and a toddler at her side. Say ‘Hello’ to someone who looks like they could use a kind word. Being kind can make you vulnerable to hurt, but it can also make you feel better about the world. It might be the first time anyone has spoken to that person on that day, maybe even longer. If you’re really lucky, you might wind up with a life-long friend like I did. Not everyone is a user. Not everyone is a taker. Not everyone is out to manipulate you to do their bidding. Trust yourself, and do what you know is right.

Love, Mom

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears.

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

-William Wordsworth


One response to “The Importance of Being Kind

  1. Love your way of insight into this and so sorry for Kate getting hurt. She has a great mom with a good head on her shoulders teaching her the right things! She will come out better on the other side of this. So sorry that Big can’t realize people who really cared and love her. She will wish she had never burned this bridge! Love ya’ll!!

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