Cake Without the Calories
There is a man outside my house shoveling my sidewalk. I can hear him chopping and scraping against the inches of slush and ice that has collected on my concrete path and driveway. It’s a miserable job; unending and one that Sisyphus himself could totally get into. Push the slush, watch it slosh back. Repeat a thousand times. He’s doing it without my asking him to. I don’t even know his last name.
It’s been a winter of multiple snow storms, freezing rain, regular old wet rain, and wind. I want to go outside and help the man. I want to rush out and thank him. I want to bake him the crustiest loaf of warm bread and deliver it to his family with the best butter Wisconsin makes, but I’m crying. I’m sobbing really.
This is what kindness does for me. Kindness unravels me.
I’m a tough nut otherwise. I can manage death without tears, pain makes me rage and then throw up, and watching videos of people falling on the ice doubles me over with unsympathetic hilarity.
But kindness.* Oh my God, kindness.
The shoveling man is my new neighbor around the corner. When I moved in during this past summer, he brought me tomatoes from his back garden that borders my yard. In the fall his wife delivered a kind of buttery applesauce, the apples from their orchard in Minnesota. The woman across the street who owns the apartments that face my house ran over in December with a Christmas cactus, and I was invited to a solstice party just down the block, only on the basis of my new geography. Each time. Tears for Ann.
I cry at parades with marching bands that play John Phillip Sousa; stars and stripes forever. When the piccolos play their stirring staccato (see for yourself at 3:00 min here https://youtu.be/a-7XWhyvIpE) I have to put on my sunglasses. I complain about the ragweed and talk about allergies and rub my eyes.
Don’t even get me started watching runners during a race. When people call out in support holding signs that say. YAY Aunt Mary or Go Random Stranger I choke up and feel such love and hope and what? What is it that makes me cry? Humanity?
I’m not sure. I was at Disney over president’s day weekend watching my good friend’s daughter dance, and the crowds of humanity there did not bring me to tears. I slathered on hand sanitizer and had a cold brew coffee to feel safe. But the cheers for my friend’s daughter did make me cry. It was embarrassing.
When my parents were ill and died this past year, I told my friend losing them so quickly felt surreal. It was like I had been carrying a heavy box around and now, with them gone, I don’t know where to put it. I was afraid if I put the metaphorical box down, my arms would float to the sky untethered by the burden of their illness and death. I had to keep the box otherwise what would I do with my guilt and grief and conversations left at the bedside? I still had work to do.
So, there were no tears for me at the hospital or hospice.
It was at my father’s funeral I said to a guest, “Please don’t be nice to me. You’ll only make me cry more.” He put his hand on my shoulder, and I proceeded to cry harder.
I think I cry at kindness because it is such a gift. It is a kite without a string. Cake without the calories. Love without the burden.
I think it’s the love that makes me cry and my crying is not sorrowful but joy, like steam released into the world so that it can float back down in the form of kindness for others to catch and deliver in the form of shoveling, or cheering, or a smile.
That’s all I’m going to say on this topic. I don’t want to look too closely at it because I secretly love it. Otherwise, I’d think I was a psychopath. (*See above). Ask my friend Katie who while watching a sad show together, I sat dry-eyed and she asked if I was made of stone.
So, now, If you’ll excuse me. I’m going to go bake some bread and deliver it to the man who shoveled my sidewalk and try not to make a crying fool of myself.