Making kindness less extraordinary

In the privileged days of being a carefree graduate student I picked up an old fraying copy of Aldous Huxley’s beautiful biography from a deliciously sprawling library of books at a family friend’s home in Hyderabad and fell in love with the deeply moving sentences and paragraphs he had written on various occasions to his wife.

One that has stayed with me for the way it resonates with what one encounters in living every day is where he expresses a child-like in-credulousness about why human beings find it so hard to be kind to each other and what it would take to make an everyday kindness, in every interaction, less extraordinary…

The book also left me with a longing for the sort of deep respect, regard and affection he had for his wife, Laura – the kind often found between old friends – and made me believe that nothing short of that was really worth anyone’s while.

Another aspect that left a deep impression on me was a similar quality of calmness and equanimity that he brought to the prospect of someone’s passing. Without once being condescending, he made it seem like it was a transition to another level of consciousness – a passing on rather than a ‘passing away’… a time for extraordinary mindfulness rather than fear; for humility, grace and acceptance than fright, disbelief and revulsion.

Today, after all these years, as I waited my turn to pay my respects to one of the gentlest, wisest, and most affectionate avuncular figures in my cousin’s life I found myself remembering what Huxley said. And I wished as I stood surrounded by the inconsolable sobbing of those close to him, that I could have addressed the sweet, calm, resting face of Uncle C with the form of address that Huxley invokes throughout the book, “Oh nobly born…’


Everybody’s loss

And so a life comes to an end. Found fallen on the side of her bed in the morning by her daughter in law who was used to waking many hours after her. Our local GP confirmed there were no injuries and that the cause of death was not the fall.

I didn’t know her much except as one of the less frequent walking partners of my mum’s little gang of mummies/grannies. Everyone knew she had miraculously escaped death after a horrific road accident in the hills that took her husband in a flash. She spent hours in the ICU not knowing he was gone. Having survived showed in the form of huge scars lined across the side of her head, an unsteady gait and labored breathing from earlier but made much worse by the accident.

And yet every time I have had occasion to meet her I have been humbled by her courage, easy smile, warmth and dignity. She never had time for gossip, never inquired why anyone lived the way they did, never interfered in anyone’s business and seemed to think, life isn’t always fair but its alright.

Although I couldn’t join the mourners, I did witness the small religious ceremony that a Sikh priest conducted with great grace in our common courtyard. Everyone who could come down was there and for those few minutes her passing away was everyone’s loss. As the priest’s voice soared blessing her body and her departed spirit, everyone was reminded of our common destiny. How we all one day have to say goodbye and go onward — to wherever it is that we are destined to go.