Small Kindnesses

Week-End Update: What did I do this week? I graded papers. But I also finished the February issue of my Real Simple magazine and decided to write something inspired by this month's question, "What is the sweetest thing that a loved one has ever done for you? I hope you enjoy!

Photo by Angel Wings Photography

Photo by Angel Wings Photography

“We’ll have shirts for the women, and the men can take home the pen stands,” she said, showing me the small wooden cubes with an image of Ganesha carved onto the front. There were several dozen of them leftover from a cousin’s wedding, and they would make a perfect (and free) favor for the male guests at our upcoming Vedic wedding ceremony. More importantly, my mother-in-law wanted to make sure that each member of my family had something Indian to take with them from our wedding.

This was a potential bridezilla moment for me, albeit one I kept to myself.

I didn’t particularly like the pen stands. I hadn’t picked them out, and I couldn’t imagine the people in my family taking it out of the gift bag and thinking, “Hey, I could use one of these!” (For those of you with a drawer full of koozies monogrammed with someone else's initials, I am aware that my reaction was absurd. A few months later, I would laugh quietly as a bride-to-be seated next to me in the hair salon similarly vented about trying to find the perfect wedding favor that everyone would keep and use for years to come.)

The truth is a bit more painful to admit. The real reason that I couldn’t imagine someone in my family enjoying the pen stand was the carving on the front. It was enough that I was choosing to enter into an interfaith life, and it was enough to hope that members of our families would commit to attending two wedding ceremonies--one Vedic and one Catholic--in the same day (which they all did). It was too much to hope that they would do much more than accept and support my choice. I dreaded the possibility of seeing these pen stands pop up at yard sales in the years to come. The pen stands represented my insecurity.

Our wedding day came, and everyone attended. Members of my family had mehndi (intricate henna designs) applied and tried some traditional South Indian dishes, and members of Amar’s family danced to the Cupid Shuffle. Everyone commented on how much they enjoyed experiencing the traditions of the other faith’s wedding ceremony. It was enough. I have never felt more loved.

Two Christmases later, Amar and I traveled home for the holidays. We had made careful plans, scheduling our four Christmases to keep up with all of the holiday traditions and dividing the number of nights in half so that we could spend even amounts of time with each family. We hoped it was enough.

That Christmas,when I had all but forgotten the true meaning of the holiday for the sake of making everyone happy, I received two of the most loving and unexpected gifts. My in-laws, who seemed bemused watching me fuss over wrinkled giftwrap the year before (and graciously did not roll their eyes), had decorated their largest indoor potted tree with Christmas lights and piled wrapped gifts underneath. They adopted my tradition.

At my grandparents’ house that Christmas Eve, I walked into their living room as I always do. I left my purse and shoes behind my grandmother’s armchair, as I always do, and I kneeled at the coffee table and reached out a cracker to take a scoop of artichoke dip. Right in my line of sight was a small table nestled in between my grandmother’s and my grandfather’s reclining chairs. The table has been there for as long as I can remember, with the same white-rimmed coaster set and the same lamp with the ball-and-chain pulls to turn it on, which we loved to play with as kids. This time I noticed that, to the left of the lamp, holding a pair of reading glasses, sat the pen stand. 

These two simple acts, which probably did not even warrant a second thought in the givers’ minds, epitomize unconditional love in mine. And for that, they are all the more beautiful. At the end of a month devoted to love, and during a time when controversial politics might lead us to argue, or violent executions abroad move us toward hatred, I ask that you remember the small kindnesses that might make a world of a difference to someone. Help a neighbor, leave someone a note, speak a kind word, or refuse to speak an unkind one. Perhaps, with more of these moments in our everyday lives, it will be enough.