Do you know me?
I feed the soul,
warm the heart,
shine the light in
Of me they doubt &
the world is blind, ‘less
you bring me out. I am
the act of kindness.
I’ve always considered myself a kind person. I know an act of kindness when I see it. I penned this poem with the thought of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT and the 26 Acts of Kindness movement it forged. The title, “Do you know me,” is asked of the meaning of kindness, but it can also be asked of the victims. In writing this morning, I realized it had an even deeper connection.
Let me tell you about Glenn. For twenty years he lived across from me, in a two-street neighborhood of townhouses. The homes are connected, in sets of four to six, so we are physically close. It’s hard not to see what your neighbor is doing, at least on the outside.
Glenn didn’t drive; he walked a mile—rain, sun or snow—to catch the bus to his job as a state worker. Glenn did not socialize, at all, never had company to his home. He kept to himself, and we, his neighbors, left it at that. As odd as he was, things got more strange a few years ago.
He stopped paying his monthly neighborhood association fee. He had occasionally done this in the past, but the property manager would greet him at the door and Glenn would gladly write a check and be caught up. But this time was different. Glenn was avoiding any contact from the Neighborhood Association. Even when he was threatened with wage garnishment.
Then one day he was seen sweeping water from his garage out to the driveway. A water pipe in his home had burst. The neighbor who’s home was attached to Glenn’s called for plumbing help after Glenn refused. He became so physically agitated at the thought of people entering his home that an ambulance was called and he was taken to the hospital. It was only a week later that Glenn passed away.
After the plumbers and property management entered the home, it was clear that the County Health Department had to be notified. They actually came in those white hazard suits and masks. They found his home without heat and electricity, therefore no running water. No running toilets. The feces was piled almost to the ceiling in the bathrooms. The stench was palpable out the doors and windows.
How long did he live like this? How did his co-workers not suspect something was wrong? I can’t imagine how, if at all, he cleaned his clothes – I never saw him carry anything larger than grocery bags from the store. It sickens me to look out my bedroom window—at that house—and think of him in there, by himself, in the cold, in the dark. If I had any clue, I would have notified Social Services. But, how could I have a clue? Clearly Glenn was socially inept and a bit of an oddball, but I never attempted to even talk to the man. Me. The one who knows what kindness looks like, and considers herself a kind and giving person. I am ashamed.
I started my day thinking of Sandy Hook. Two simple words—once only the name of an elementary school—whose meaning changed in a brief moment, one morning — one year ago today. Words that joined the lexicon of violent, tragic, senseless events. We only have to mutter a word or two, and we collectively know: Columbine, Boston Marathon Bombing, 9/11.
The 26 Acts of Kindness was originally conceived by TV journalist Ann Curry and quickly developed into a movement that continues today. Curry’s idea was to honor the memory of the twenty children and six adults who died that day by committing one act of kindness in the name of each. I’m very fond of that idea and I hope it spreads far and forever. More kindness in the world has to be a good thing, right?
I’m also reminded of the mentally deranged shooter and his Mom. In my opinion, also tragedies. I can’t help but think of my neighbor Glenn, obviously also mentally unstable. What was to stop him from harming others? And should that be the only measuring stick for stepping in? Just to protect ourselves? There are thousands of others like them, individuals and families suffering, right under our noses, in our neighborhoods.
Do we really know them? Do we really know kindness?