September 3, 2013

Err in the Direction of Kindness

Reflecting on our Grand Tour of Europe, my son, his gal and I remembered an event that stands out in our memories. We had flown into Zurich on a Saturday afternoon and rented a car for the five-hour drive to Mürren, Switzerland (our favorite stop on the Tour). Around 7pm, an hour from our destination, and in the middle of nowhere, we had a flat tire. The wrench in the rental car didn't work. We called the rental car office in Zurich, and got placed on endless hold.

I tried to flag down a passing car. I wasn't having much success  but after a while, one stopped: two middle-aged women returning home to Zurich after a local rock concert. They spent about 40 minutes with us, trying different options, making calls we couldn't, trying tools from their own car. Finally, they were able to translate the car's owner's manual -- in German of course -- and found the solution.

We were flabbergasted by their kindness. The next day I was checking my email and I found a "Caring Bridge" message from a friend who is dealing with his son's serious illness. He was thanking others "who have sustained us during this ordeal." He wrote:
For an eloquent meditation on acts of kindness, we strongly recommend the 2013 Syracuse commencement address by author George Saunders. (By the way, "kindness" is a great Anglo-Saxon word, with the same root as "kin;" in other words being of the same "kind," thus treating others as part of the family.) The Syracuse speech is on the level of David Foster Wallace's magisterial 2005 Kenyon College address ("This Is Water"). Saunders exhorts the graduates: "to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness... that luminous part of you that exists beyond personality -- your soul, if you will -- is as bright and as shining as any that has ever been. Clear away everything that keeps you away from this secret luminous place."
The address deserves to be read in full:

No comments: