Be the Kindness the World Needs

Back when 9/11 happened, I was scheduled to teach in the Chicago area that next weekend. In the face of that overwhelming tragedy, it felt just ludicrous, even frivolous or disrespectful, to even contemplate doing something as pointless in the grand scheme of the world as a dog training seminar.

I offered to reschedule the seminar for some other time, and the host agreed. But then she changed her mind. When she contacted people to let them know we would not be going forward as planned, she was very surprised to find so many participants begging for her not to cancel the event. The repeated theme was, “Please… we need something to do except cry, grieve, be afraid.”

So I drove across the country, my route taking me along the bottom of Lake Erie. The skies were utterly devoid of any aircraft save for the military jets patrolling our border. It was eerie and weird and sad. Everywhere I stopped, people were dull-eyed, shocked, afraid. As I drove, I kept doubting the value of my decision.

But I taught the weekend workshop, pouring my heart into being present with the dogs and their people. And for a time, we could set aside — not forget, not ignore, but gently set aside the immensity of what we were all facing as a country. We found ways to laugh, and to be amazed and engaged and connected to each other. At one point, a terrifying loud bang from a nearby construction site scared us all into shocked silence and fearful startles, a potent reminder that nothing was forgotten, that deep inside each of us was something awful we could not yet even name or process or understand.

At the end of the workshop, what I heard over and over was thanks. “Thanks, I really needed a break.” “Thanks for helping me to think about something other than the lives lost.” “Thank you for helping me remember that even in the face of tragedy life goes on.” “Thank you for being here – I would not have left my house otherwise, but I needed to be with others.”

Today, horrified by the events in Israel and Gaza, I am feeling a bit like I did back in Sept 2001. It seems frivolous to speak of dog training or the joys of a warm barn on a fall night while so much pain exists in this world. I am safe in my privileged world, not even able to come close to imagining what is happening half a world away, or even in nearby towns.

I don’t have an answer for a world where governments are willing to starve or bomb civilians, children, hospitals, where lives have such little value except as political fodder. On every side, so much destruction, pain, fear, grief.

I only have the gifts granted to me in this life: to help people and animals, to try to support kindness and respect for all beings. It seems such a tiny candle to hold in the face of so much darkness, and it is of no comfort to those who are hurting, I know.

I urge you all to hold a space for all who are hurting, even as you reach for the comfort that animals provide us when humans prove themselves to be the most dangerous creatures on Earth. Be the kindness that the world so badly needs, even if like me you do that imperfectly, from far away, in ways that have no impact on events so distant.

Do not look away from the madness, but gather around you the goodness and beauty that is in your life — it is the shield that allows us to bear witness without being destroyed by what we see.