Friday, August 30, 2013

Letter to George Saunders

Damon Winter/The New York Times
Dear George Saunders,

I finally read your commencement speech at Syracuse, and I’m trying out this “erring in the direction of kindness” thing. After two days, I’m with you: it’s hard. I could have told you that yesterday, but I decided to try again for another day before letting you know.

First of all, I’m doing the things I don’t want to do but know I should. I think not doing everything I want to do all the time is pretty good for me…pretty good for others, too. Like taking out the heavy blue recycling bin or picking up the paper instead of leaving it to one of my aging parents. Like responding sooner to e-mails from people, getting up an hour earlier, cleaning the toothpaste residue from my sink, skipping out on that dark chocolate bark with sea salt and pumpkin seeds after dinner (which has been really hard, let me tell you.) Like making small talk with the cashier at the grocery store even though I may never see them again. Like going up to old acquaintances I run into and actually talking to them rather than pretending I didn’t make eye contact and bolting for the door. You know, that type of stuff.

Yes, I do have a college degree. No, that does not make me too good to do these things. And no, I am not pretending they are anything sensational. Only they are because of the kindness you talked about. The kindness makes them heroic. That’s why when I do these un-sensational things, it feels pretty good. I feel adult-like and responsible and human, whatever that’s supposed to mean, even if it’s in a feeble kind of way.

Great speech, by the way.

It’s also been a nice vacation, you know? From thinking about myself. Sometimes that feels like a full-time job. How healthy was that last meal you ate? Are you sure you edited that cover letter enough? Is that gray hair number 4 or 5 on your twenty-three year old scalp? So...what are you going to do with your life? It’s a bit of a bore, really. All this thinking and re-thinking about myself. And doing things I don’t like all the time is at least challenging and new in an exciting and simultaneously awfully scary kind of way. My progress is slow, but I’m working on it. This kindness thing is growing on me more and more with each recycling bin and newspaper.

I don’t say all of this to get your applause or your attention. If anything, it’s embarrassing that it’s taken me so long to even become a little better. So I’m glad you included that bit about getting kinder as we age. I’m looking forward to it. And in the meantime, that's why I'm starting today. So that when I am old, rocking my fro and enjoying iced tea or whiskey on the front porch and the neighbors walk by, I will be radiating kindness.  I guess what I'm trying to say is...thanks for the reminder. I really needed it. I think we all do. It’s easy to forget that we’re called to kindness, and that there is a greatness in living it.  Sometimes I think that’s the only reason we’re here.

You said the Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, wrote towards the end of his life that he was “mostly Love, now.”

I add that we should mostly love, now.