Kindness Knows No Shame is from the tune, As, from Songs In The Key of Life by Stevie Wonder. It’s a poetic passage that resonates every time I hear it. I remind myself of it often when someone misinterprets something I do to be nice.
It took a while before I understood that some people can’t accept goodwill, it makes them, for whatever reason, uncomfortable. Then it hit me… I was just like that, way back when.
A Frenchman, who was the maitre d’ of a bistro I frequented, gave me a Tiffany pen for my birthday. He was only an acquaintance but he did know that I liked to write so I believe the gesture came simply from that. I remember how badly I behaved when he gave it to me wrapped so elegantly in that famous ice blue box. Grace was nowhere to be found since I actually got angry and gave it back.
How’s that for good manners?
Thirty years later I had a similar experience with a woman who I gave a gift to. She was a new friend, but one I liked an awful lot that I fussed over I gather, a bit too much. One of my favorite gifts to give, is an initialed L. L. Bean Boat and Tote with goodies tucked inside which is what I left with her doorman.
What kind of goodies? Fancy soap, socks, good chocolate…things that, from paying attention to a person, I’d know instinctively what they’d like.
I waited to hear from her but never did. Finally, thinking she didn’t receive it, I called. “Oh no, I got it,” she said, hurrying me off the phone. “You really shouldn’t have done that Susannah, it was far too much.” She hung up so fast I couldn’t even respond. Not only that, but I never heard from her again. Not one to chase a friendship, I sadly let it go until months later when I ran into her at the library.
“Did I offend you in some way?” I asked all set to apologize.
“Well, no but I don’t do well with gifts,” she said, “and yours was nicer than my husband’s or my daughter’s. Don’t you find that odd?”
“No, I don’t,” I truthfully said. “I always give nice presents, those are the kind I like to get, plus you deserved one.” She mumbled a few more forced pleasantries and that was that, but our friendship was never resuscitated.
When I got that lovely silver pen I had the same response that she had. I didn’t think I deserved something quite so nice especially from a person I hardly knew. In those days I rarely received a gift from anyone. My own mother would often forget my birthday so why shouldn’t everyone else? It was a strain of self-pity set off by the absence of self-worth.
We don’t think we count so we need to make sure that no one else thinks so either.
I’m so grateful I’m not like that anymore. The friends I have today are very generous to me and allow me to be the same toward them.
When I think of that woman who no longer talks to me, I genuinely feel for her. I also feel for that young girl in 1973 who didn’t think she deserved someone going out of their way to pay attention to who she really was…a writer, though more closeted back then and unbeknownst to her, in desperate need of being seen.
Just as time knew to move on from the beginning…
and the seasons always know when to change.
just as kindness knows no shame
just know through all your joy and pain…
How’s that for a picture…SB