After I wrote a poem/some drivel about kindness the other day, I found myself messaging my oldest and closest friend to say thank you for his own kindness to me. He is kind – really kind – and I have the most perfect example of how he is exactly so (which, for him, was so fleeting that he probably doesn’t even remember it).
We were finishing up our coffees but as usual, goodbye was suspended by fervent discussion about a book or a word or an author. This happens a lot – probably every time we have coffee together – but even though it’s a signpost that our nerdy lit talk is coming to an end, it usually makes for some of the most interesting chatter. In this instance, the author that adjourned our departure was Haruki Murakami, the novel What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. My friend had enjoyed the book, recommended it thoroughly and his admiration was apparent when he explained a little backstory. Although Murakami has experienced continued success and acclaim as an author since his first publication, he did not start writing until later on in life. He sent the draft of his first novel away in a competition, won first prize and has continued to write since, my friend explained to me. That’s incredible, I had commented. Yeah it is, my friend replies.
So get your shit together and write me a fucking novel to read, he says with a fleeting smile and small wave.
And then he is gone, probably forgetting what he’s just said with every new footstep and here I am six months later, remembering everything about it because it’s a warm fluffy kitten type feeling to know that someone believes you can write a book as much as you WANT to believe you can write a book. And really understanding someone is, I think, the ultimate kindness you give. It means you’ve hung around long enough and paid attention hard enough to everything that a person is, and made sense of it enough to know how to love them for itt. How wonderful, I thought to myself last week, that I have a friend who has done that for me. How kind! I have to thank him. So in my clumsy, awkward way I tried.
Thank you for understanding that I would rather hold a book than hug a person, I told him.
It’s kind of ironic for someone who wants to make a life out of working with words, but I’m not always the best with telling people how I feel. I wondered afterwards if he knew that I wasn’t trying to be funny by saying that. I wondered if he understood what I meant.
A couple of days ago after a difficult conversation with somebody, I found myself crying in front of my friend. Proper crying, screwed up face and running black streams of mascara down my cheeks crying. Crying you can’t hide even if you cover your face with your hands, which I did. I don’t know what to do, my friend said, to help you feel okay. Nothing, I tell him and with my distinct gracelessness, I wipe my eyes on the back of my hand.
And then my friend quotes Plato’s Republic and it is perfect. It is a reminder that he understands, and that is kindness.