I am told that in near-death experiences one relives not so much one’s entire life but all the relationships we have had in that life. In this way the fortunate nearly-dead understands the importance and poignancy of every single living soul with whom they’ve come into contact. This seems true, but is also very easy to overlook. We meet so many people after all, and most of them very casually. There are cashiers and waiters, airplane neighbors, schoolmates, workmates, strangers on the street. Most of these souls are just a part of the busy flow of life, as distant and muted in our lives as the scenery.
Then there are your children. I have heard parents say, “My children are everything to me.” I don’t believe this. I certainly hope it isn’t true, because what exactly was this parent before the children were born and what will they be once these children – hopefully – leave the nest? But I understand the sentiment behind the statement. There is something about raising a child that casts a spotlight on life and teaches us what survivors of lightning strikes and botched surgeries often learn with or without children.
At some point in your parenting life you will probably realize that you must become conscious of your words and actions. It has never been clearer to me than with my children that my own impatience gets repaid with impatience, my anger gets repaid with anger, my love gets repaid with love. Everything I do and say matters.
For many years I considered this heightened experience to be unique to parenting. The rest of the world was durable enough to withstand my anger and indifferent enough to ignore my love. I cannot remember exactly when this changed. One afternoon, however, I left a drugstore noting that I had taken as much care thanking the cashier for my change as I had talking to my son about college.
“But I’ll never see that cashier again,” I thought. “Why bother?” But it was as silly question, wasn’t it? As if kindness is something you can lose when you offer it to someone else.
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