I have to start by saying the title of this post makes me uncomfortable. It’s like that part of the yoga class at the beginning and/or at the end when the instructor starts talking about loving kindness and mindfulness and gratitude and recognizing the divine within and all that. All of which I agree with in principle, but I’m a cynic, which means that kind of crazy talk is better left to the inside voices. I always crack my eyes open and sneak a look around to see if the rest of the class is into it or is squirming. Usually everyone seems fine with it, so then I have to take a deep yoga breathe-y, breathe-y breath and tell myself to “recognize what I am feeling and take note of what makes me uncomfortable.” And then I realize that, oh my God, I’m starting to absorb this shit and that self-acceptance feels weird but is probably a good thing, so I should shut up inside my head and give it a try.
But I digress before I even get started, and this post is, in fact, about love and kindness, or more specifically, how small acts of kindness express love. For instance, I’m reading this book called Londoners by Craig Taylor. The author went all over the London getting to know people and recording their stories about the city and their relationship with it. There’s this one couple, Philip and Ann Wilson, who live in the Tower of London, which I love because I loved the book The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, and it makes me happy that people really do live in the Tower of London. (Incidentally, the Office of Lost Things in the Underground is also real, I was thrilled to learn.) The wife, Ann, kind of rags on Philip a little bit, talking about how when she met him, he was with two taller guards (he’s a yeoman warder at the Tower), and how she didn’t want to get the short guy with red hair. They clicked though, and got married five months (!) later. Ann goes on to talk about how Philip’s uniforms are all over the place and about his other quirks, but you can tell she’s saying these things affectionately, and she winds up saying how he “brings her a cup of tea in bed every morning before he leaves to go guard the Tower.”
It was such a simple statement, bringing her tea in bed, but it spoke volumes to me. It told me about their intimacy and their regard for one another: his that he would do this every day, and hers that she recognized it for what it is: an act of giving, which is always an act of love. It’s the kind of thing that you know, when one of them eventually dies, will kick the survivor flat in the chest when the tea either doesn’t come anymore, or when no one is there to receive it.
I had drinks with a girlfriend the day after I read that story, and told her about it because it really struck me how little things like bringing someone tea (or Champagne dregs, or a fresh almond croissant, not to put too fine a point on it) without any agenda actually says so much. It doesn’t have to be romantic love, and in a lot of ways I would argue that it is far more than a gesture of romantic love anyway. It shows affection, it shows caring, it shows compassion, and it shows generosity. It shows character that a person thinks of others. It shows that you value another person, whether it’s a friend, or someone in your family, or your partner, or your lover. And the real point is that you don’t bring someone a cup of tea to demonstrate that you care; you just do it without thinking because you DO care.
One of the most nurturing things someone has ever done for me happened last spring in Budapest. I was going through some shitters and called a friend in the middle of the morning and told her about it. We talked for about two minutes before she said she was coming over and hung up. And she did. She dropped whatever she was working on that morning, and brought me bread and cheese and salami and tomatoes and a gypsy pepper and pistachio ice cream. She walked in, gave me a hug, put the ice cream in the freezer, and made me a sandwich with the rest of the stuff. She told me to eat the fatty things, because I was going to need the strength. I’m sure she knew that I had zero appetite to eat any of it, because as I looked at all the food incredulously, she just shrugged and said “This is what we do when someone is upset. We bring food.” And I swear to God, it made me laugh.
I look back at this as a something of a turning point of our friendship. We were friends before that, but I knew when she walked in with a grocery bag of food that this was someone who really had my back. It was very different from someone saying “Call me if you need anything,” as if you are going to call them up and say “Hey, I’ve lost 20 pounds, I haven’t showered in three days, and I can’t get out of the fetal position. Can you bring me a milkshake so I don’t accidentally starve to death?” This was someone who just went ahead and DID what was needed, because she cared and because that’s the kind of person she is.
I consider myself very lucky lately because the core people in my life now are all givers and nurturers. This wasn’t always the case, and it has added more depth and happiness and satisfaction than I would have ever imagined, even though it seems like it would be a total no-brainer. You givers and nurturers know who you are, and I thank you, and I love you. And, not to take away from this moment, but this is the second time in four days that I’ve been up till 6 a.m. with insomnia, so if I am abnormally and incoherently sentimental, that is why.