I'm reading
Giving presence
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Giving presence
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Giving presence
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
15 February 2017

Giving presence

An ode to one of the most potent aspects of kindness: presence.

Written by Danielle Caruana

This story originally ran in issue #48 of Dumbo Feather

Image by Hernán Piñera via Flickr

It was one of those nights where the cold seems to reach in under the doors, leaks through the taps and grips at your ankles. I was living in Fremantle with my three-year-old daughter while my husband was away on tour. I was battling depression.

In hindsight I can’t believe how bad I let it get and how stained that time is in my memory. I struggle to remember any joy from that murky period, save for flashes of hearing my daughter sing or seeing the sunlight catch her bouncy golden curls or seeing her standing at the door of our house refusing to let me leave in my “sad pants” (my super daggy grey trackies).

There was someone who was relatively new in my life who I had let in on how severe the situation had become. This night she called me and read through my “Yep, I’m fine.” She could hear all that I was holding back, even though I considered myself an expert of mental health deception. In five minutes she was at my door. I was scared to see her there. I felt so confronted and naked in my desperate need. She would not accept my resistance. She bundled me into her car and drove me straight to the beach.

It was windy and screeching out. She sat me on a rock and draped a blanket around me. She asked nothing of me. She just sat there beside me and a floodgate of grief poured from me as the wind sang my misery. She didn’t say a word. We sat there, that way, for what felt like the longest time. I fell silent between bouts of wails and she would wait for the next bout. Quiet. Completely present. A space of safety, free of judgement into which I emptied myself. I look back on that night now and I see I turned a corner. Her patient and present love reached into my misery, and a faint shaft of light beat in me for a moment.

All my problems did not dissolve into that night. The shift was more subtle than that. But something did happen. A warmth reached me that I hadn’t felt in too long. When I was asked to write this piece I thought I might go out and find ways to bestow invisible acts of kindness on people. A masked kindness crusader, identifying others’ needs and filling them anonymously. Then, upon discovering said deed completed, the receiver would look around and look to the heavens. I would be smugly hiding in the bushes while they were forever transformed by the idea that there are magical benevolent forces at play.

Just as I was sewing the crusader cape, I realised that this might be my way of copping out on one of the most potent aspects of kindness: presence. Kindness is an act of unadulterated presence. Kindness is vulnerable. Kindness says, “I see you.” Distinct from generosity, and worlds away from being nice or polite, kindness holds a transformative potential.

I put a callout asking people to tell me the kindest act they had ever experienced. More than 50 stories were shared, and in these warming, hope-inspiring tales, was this common narrative:

  1. I was desperate or in profound need or grief
  2. Someone stepped forward seeking to soften my grief or lessen my burden
  3. I held no expectation therefore their act came as a complete surprise
  4. I experienced their act as selfless, beyond generosity
  5. I will never forget and have been indelibly marked by this act.
  6. I seek to be kinder since this experience: Kindness begets kindness.

Some of the acts remembered were up to 50 years old, many bestowed by total strangers. And yet the experience remained as a shining light reminder of what kindness is. Sometimes the transaction happened in less than a minute, however the act was so powerful because in that moment the veil that keeps us believing we are separate and alone was lifted. Perhaps it is a window that might only be opened once in one’s lifetime. It is but a flash connection that has the ability to melt us, mark us, and inform us in subtle and profound ways.

I feel like I am always asking, pleading even, for my children to be kind. “Be kind to each other!” “What is the kindest thing you can do?” Now I am asking this more of myself. I have been guilty of ignoring the call of kindness. It can be confronting to turn up to someone’s need. Need can be so messy and my urge is to clean it up, rather than to just turn up to it. I have spotted need and walked away sometimes just because it is inconvenient, or I am just too busy. Or out of fear of being overbearing or too assuming I let the moment slip. I let the window shut. Not anymore. Now, I seek to be an unmasked kindness crusader. This is the world I want to live in.

Danielle Caruana

Danielle Caruana (Mama Kin), is an Australian singer-songwriter. She’s also Dumbo Feather alumni, read her conversation.

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