The world can at times feel like a very unkind place. The year my daughter, Josie, was twelve years old, three horrendous events occurred: the “Batman Shooting” at a movie theater where twelve people were killed and seventy wounded; the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left twenty- six children, teachers, and staff dead; and the Boston Marathon bombing that wounded hundreds of people and killed three. It was a year of extreme tragedy. Despite my efforts to minimize overexposure, Josie felt a real and strong fear that these things could happen to her. Lockdown drills were being done regularly at school, and she began imagining herself and her loved ones torn to bits. Josie’s heartbreaking response was to wonder aloud, “Why do people do this?” A basic dread took hold of her.
Then something sparked an awakening. In a long-jump sandpit, some kids discovered a pair of baby field mice. Josie became determined to rescue them, even though everyone knew it was a lost cause and coldly said as much. She declared, “I know they will die. At least I can give them comfort until they do.”
At her insistence, I drove Josie to the sports field as she clutched a bottle of Pedialyte and a dropper. She dashed across the track to be Nurse Nightingale. The mice were still alive, and she gently placed the pink creatures in a box of tissue. As I watched, it hit me: Josie was fully alive with her compassion for all living things. It was the act of caring itself that mattered to her. As if, by demonstrating the kindest way that she could possibly act, she could turn the world around. She gave them names as children do—Bradley and Charlotte—and carefully nursed them. One mouse died a few days later. Josie held out hope for the other but, in the end, she buried the pair in the garden. While she was frustrated that they hadn’t lived, she consoled herself with this: “At least I tried.” We were all moved by her efforts. At a time when the world felt burdened by grave issues, saddled with grief, frustration, and helplessness, Josie found healing and empowerment by demonstrating her own kindness. She showed a brutal world that she would care for the meekest of its creatures. And, in doing so, she discovered that what feels best is not evading harsh realities—it’s being kind along the way.
Excerpt from my book, The Kindness Cure: How the Science of Compassion Can Heal Your Heart and Your World
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