Simple gifts …

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Bookshelves at Fantastic Thrift, Richmond, Virginia

Finding a penny, a blue heron, or a hawk crossing my path, such “signs” from above or beyond never fail me when I need a boost or comfort or just some divine assurance that I am never alone, that there is something “more” and beyond my mere mortal comprehension.  My most knee-buckling “sign” however is one of song. It is uncanny how this tune seems to follow me no matter where I go or whether my mood is sheer happiness or one of heartbreak.  I know it’s popular and it always pleases me to hear it whether at weddings or funerals. Yet it is impossible to recount the numerous times I will be driving along in silent melancholy, flip on the radio and it is this song floating into my ears. It is the old Shaker Hymn “Simple Gifts.”  Just last week, I happened to mention this musical phenomenon to someone in an email and a day later, only hours after learning of the death of a very close friend, it happened again. Only this time a bit out of the ordinary. In my grief, I found myself stumbling around a thrift shop (truly, I hardly remember driving there) and as I walked past the books, I was struck dumb as the booklet you see here was lying face up on the bottom shelf.  It is an illustrated version of the song’s lyrics, very whimsical and brightly colored, and fully of silly cats! I caught my breath, snatched it up and I carried it around in my shopping basket for an hour. I eventually decided that it wasn’t for me to actually buy or have. I know the words by heart and perhaps another would benefit from its simple gift — the message to once more take heart, to not be sad but instead to be thankful for the wonders of this life and the blessings and people in it, both past and present — to be encouraged and to “Come round right.”

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“Simple Gifts” was written in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett (1797–1882) while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.[2]

On living “kind”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Acrylic airbrush. Editorial illustration.

Somehow I want to coral my thoughts today around a personal and heartfelt mission I’ve been considering these past few months with the hope of it becoming a habit. I’ve decided to live “kind”… really try to, at least, and already I’ve seen that it truly helps smooth life’s rough spots.

It all started one recent summer evening when my friend Absolut and I met at my favorite watering hole. (We meet in a couple of chairs in the front yard to ponder the pond and life’s mysteries more often than is healthy, I’m sure.) Our conversation wound its way beyond the week’s woes and wickedness to ways to combat the general “snarky-ness” snaking its way into my psyche of late. (I owe such malaise to yet another vice — social and broadcast media.) ANYWAY… as my ice was melting, so was my mean streak and I came to the conclusion that the remedy might just be a good dose of “kind” and that I needed to live it in order to receive it.

So I asked Absolut (btw, his last name is Truth) just what is kind, what are its origins, moreover, why has kindness become so elusive these days? I was reminded of a most cherished phrase — “I kin ye…” — from The Education of Little Tree.* “Kin” as a verb extends far beyond the noun version meaning of familial ties. More than I love you, it says I really, deeply and truly understand you. Someone, I suppose, somewhere down the page in the English lexicon decided we needed an adjective version of this word kin and added a “d.” So there’s my hypothesis as to the word’s origins, and therein lies the answer to my query regarding kind’s meaning and elusiveness. Kindness has a direct correlation to one’s ability or willingness to try to understand.

According to the Talmud, “deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.” So, here’s my plan: Simply taking a moment to first consider and maybe kin the person who cut me off in traffic before flipping them off; to maybe hide, but not “un-kin” Facebook friends who can make my blood boil; to remember that I kin the someone who left some trivial household chore undone before I bark out my displeasure; to pay it forward at every chance; to write a handwritten thank-you note once a week; to believe the best before assuming the worst — That’s living kind.

God help me.

* Read more about “The Education of Little Tree” and “I kin ye … ” here:  http://www.fivemoreminuteswith.com/2011/03/the-real-meaning-of-kin/