Archives for posts with tag: Kindness

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I took this photo in the room where I currently spend most of my days. Hopper’s Automat hangs on the wall facing me, while behind is a window with bars. I sit equidistant between both. I love Hopper’s art, something about the melancholic aloneness. His work has always spoken to me, now more than ever. I watched a documentary on his life on youtube—a commentator stated that in Hopper’s paintings, time is elongated, stretched, contemplative, a sense of time slowing down.

In the current lockdown situation, I have been considering time and its meaning right now. The days pass quickly, which surprises me, but at the same time there is a slowness to my life. I seem to do things, particularly reading, at a different pace. And I like that—it feels as if I am more attentive, somehow, that life is more consciously deliberate. I was reading a piece in the New York Times by Olivia Laing. She reflects on time and its current meaning:

“Most of us are perennially short of time, and now we’re left hanging in it”

For me, it’s not a bad place to be hanging. But the sense of uncertainty does challenge. I am not in the country where I normally live. I do not know when I will see my daughter next. I do not know when I will next touch someone. Will someone I know and love contract the virus, and suffer? When will this end? Will it ever end?

There are so many unknowns. Before all this began, I thought that I had reached a place where I was relatively ok with the not-knowingness of life. But the pandemic challenges this, and me, on so many levels. The future is indeed unknown—it always was, really, and we mostly collude with the illusion that we can to some extent predict, and even control our futures.

My daughter finds solace in the shared experience that we are all going through (albeit to hugely varying degrees of suffering). I agree, the corporate nature of the pandemic—no one can escape its impact—is reassuring.

And then there is also hope. It’s too soon for me to think about the end of this, when and how we will emerge from our physically isolated worlds. And what that world might look like. But in the meantime, I am optimistic. Mainly about humanity and the acts of compassion that I observe daily. And the new connectedness that I am experiencing with friends old and new across the globe. People are what matter, they give life its greatest value, meaning, and joy.

And on the note of hope, from Derek Mahon:

Everything Is Going To Be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate

the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window

and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?

There will be dying, there will be dying,

but there is no need to go into that.

The lines flow from the hand unbidden

and the hidden source is the watchful heart.

The sun rises in spite of everything

and the far cities are beautiful and bright.

I lie here in a riot of sunlight

watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right.

 

CQ

 

 

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This is my second Thanksgiving in the US. This holiday, and even more so July 4, remind me that I am a visitor here, and thus cannot make any authentic claim to truly own these national events.

I do like the opportunity Thanksgiving affords to bring people together, in kindness, encouraging us to pause and consider all that is good and meaningful in our lives.

Kindness is at the top of my gratitude list. Coming here, a stranger to the city and the country, the kindness of others has made my stay so much more welcoming and joyful.

The poem Small Kindnesses, by Danusha Laméris, encapsulates this beautifully.

“Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,

and to say thank you to the person handing it…”

 

“…We have so little of each other, now. So far

from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.

What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these

fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,

have my seat,” “Go ahead – you first,” “I like your hat.”

from Small Kindnesses

By Danusha Laméris

 

 

 

…which is a quote from Anna Quindlen, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, novelist and essayist.

But her question does not in any way relate to her hugely impressive CV and achievements. Rather, it stems from her encounters with healthcare professionals, which has prompted her reflections on the extent to which she was seen as an individual in that context, as a person rather than as ‘just another patient’.

The writer was recently invited to deliver the Humanism in Medicine lecture at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) annual meeting (http://humanizingmedicine.org/anna-quindlen-advises-physicians/).

Quindlen’s question – “Do you know who I am?” – arose from her experience of two separate medical encounters, both involving anaesthesiologists. The first was patronising (my judgement call), and left her doubtful as to whether he knew anything about her or about her previous history.

The second encounter was a positive one:

“Only a short interchange, yet in some fashion she knew who I was.”

Quindlen continues:

“And I assume she was at least as busy as her male colleagues.”

But gender distinctions are not the point. Instead, what Quindlen wants to get across is that she felt ‘seen’ by one professional, and not by the other.

“She was professional, and she was kind. Oh, what a combination that is in what often seems like a cold and inhuman world.”

Quindlen sees the problems in health care – patients feeling ignored, isolated, patronised – as part of a larger societal problem. Power relationships wherever they occur, and which too often underlie the doctor-patient encounter, ‘foment fear and mistrust and alienation’. She speaks of the ‘MDeity’, doctors as little gods, and is surprised how pervasive this remains, despite huge technological and other advances.

Quindlen’s conclusion is that in the end, the person – the patient, the sufferer – seeks and needs ‘the human touch’, to be seen as an individual, and to be considered as such.

She ends with advice for the doctors she addresses:

  • Try to be present in the moment
  • Acknowledge uncertainty
  • Practice empathy
  • Try to be kind

CQ

A first experience for me, this festival, seemingly the largest european film festival, is on at various venues in London until November 17.

Thus far I have seen two great films.

Firstly, The Lady in Number 6, which introduces us to Alice Herz Sommer, who, at almost 110, is the world’s oldest pianist and holocaust survivor. She is truly inspirational. Charismatic and engaging, her optimism and enjoyment of life is uplifting. She is grateful for her life, all of it, the good and the bad, and for every day that she continues to experience. At 109, she enjoys life and people hugely, and continues to devote time and self to her greatest passion, playing the piano:

‘Music saved my life and music saves me still.’

As one of the co-producers Chris Branch stated when he introduced The Lady in Number 6, this is not a film about the holocaust, but about one remarkable person.

Secondly, Orchestra of Exiles, which was preceded by 15 minutes of wonderful live music (violin, including the very moving title track to Schindler’s List). Again, this film was much more about the good achieved by one person rather than a documentary about the holocaust. The Polish violinist Bronislow Hubermann rescued many of the world’s greatest musicians from Nazi Germany and eastern europe in the mid 1930s, facilitating their exit to Palestine, which led to the creation of the now world-famous Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Two things struck me while watching both films: the extraordinary goodness and kindness that exists in humanity and which can sometimes be easy to forget, and the power of music to enrich and to transform both the lives of individuals and of nations.

CQ

One of those books that I want everyone to read…

Philippe Claudel’s work (Monsieur Linh and His Child. Philippe Claudel (Author) and Euan Cameron (Translator). Maclehose Press, 2012) is almost palpably sad, and deeply moving, a portrayal of humanness at the sharpest edge of suffering, yet also about how affecting and critical real friendship can be. Cliched it may sound, but the kindness of others truly has the power to transform the experience of suffering.

The novel is about the elderly Mr Linh, who we meet as he leaves his homeland with his baby granddaughter, his only remaining family:

‘The old man’s name is Monsieur Linh. He is the only one who knows this is his name because all those who knew it are dead.’

The child is just six weeks old, and Monsieur Linh’s only goal in life is to care for her and to keep her safe:

‘Nothing else matters but his little girl. He wants to look after her in the best possible way.’

Which he does. She is also his link with his past, his homeland, and his dead family. Her eyes:

‘…are the eyes of his son, they are the eyes of his son’s wife, and they are the eyes of his son’s mother, his dearly beloved wife’

In a strange country and city where he does not speak the language, Monsieur Linh is overwhelmed by people, strangers, and anonymity. He has come from a village with just one street, where everyone knows everyone. Now, he is lost, and bewildered by the strangeness of this new world, where ‘nothing is like anything he knows.’

His epiphany comes when he meets the recently widowed Monsieur Bark. Also lonely, the men strike up a friendship, although neither speaks the other’s language. The friendship grows through gestures and acts of kindness. Language is not essential for understanding the sadness of others, for appreciating a depth of melancholy that is beyond words.

The friendship with Monsieur Bark becomes pivotal to Monsieur Linh’s life and survival. Inevitably, the relationship is threatened by external monsters – the city, beaurocracy, and strangers who fail to consider and to understand Monsieur Linh’s plight. However, just as he unwaveringly devotes all his energy and attention to his beloved grand-daughter, so now he turns his attention to his friend and to the friendship that means so much. Kindness wins out in the end.

A parable of sorts, this short narrative is never cloyingly sentimental. Rather, it leaves you with the belief and the hope that we humans can truly help one another, and make a difference to the suffering of others. This may sound pious, and the book, like many parables, is a work of fiction. Yet, this matters not.

Read it, weep, and consider…

CQ