Sometimes after having a heart-to-heart with friends, particularly friends who are going through hard times, I think about the struggles they are undergoing, the advice I have shared with them, and how I would take it into my own life. Every now and then, this results in having a conversation with the younger version of my own self.
These days it seems like most of my friends are struggling in relationships. If they are in one, they are struggling. If they are not in one, they want to be in one. Sometimes it seems like two groups are not struggling: the happily married ones who have been together for over 30 years and the ones who are still in the infatuation phase of relationships. That’s it. Everyone else seems to be struggling, or not dealing with the challenges that are just under the surface.
Seeing so much suffering around, and being asked to offer advice to others, makes me want to go back to my younger self and have a journey with myself about where I have been, what I have gone through, and the lessons of the heart that I have learned. Or, to say more directly, I wish I had learned at an earlier phase of life.
In earlier periods of life, there were times that I thought I knew what I was looking for in a relationship. I often thought in terms of qualities the other person would possess. I thought of compatibility in cultures. Coming from a Persian background, I thought for a while it would be important to be with someone who understood my culture, or at least understood my culture’s importance to me. Seeking God on the path of Islam, for the longest time I thought it would be key to be with someone who shared that spiritual orientation. At times I thought of someone who understood how important my family was to me, and would love a large, loving family. At times it was to seek someone who shared my love of poetry, sacred music, and travel to faraway exotic destinations.
I realize now that one of the mistakes I made back then — maybe “mistake” is too harsh — a life lesson I had not learned yet was that I continued to look for qualities in my partner. I needed to pay as much, if not more, attention to my own growth.
And the truth of the matter is that each person brings out a different quality in us. It’s almost like a musical symphony, where each person brings out different “notes” in us. Some people bring out something in us that is kind, generous, and loving. Others bring us qualities of frustration, anger, and resentment. None of us is an island unto ourselves. We are all products of a kind of alchemical interaction with each other. There is something beautiful in being around people who bring out beautiful qualities in us. And yes, it is true that there is a kind of growth that comes by people who “rub us” the wrong way. It’s true, as Rumi said:
“If you are irritated by every rub,
how will your mirror be polished?”
Yes, sometimes to have people who give us opportunities to grow, to be challenged, to even be shown our own rough edges, is lovely. But maybe, just maybe, not as a life partner. Opposites do attract sometimes, but it’s not necessarily a life plan for bliss and romance to go seeking after people who are our opposites.
Back to the life partner part.
I am grateful for any and every encounter — yes, even the ones that left me brokenhearted. Now I know that even the brokenness made me seek the healing. We cannot seek water without thirst. And when I come across people who carry their own pain and suffering — which is all of us, each and every single one — having had my own pain makes it so much more real, more personal, more immediate to sit with them and their pain. We are rarely more human than we are when we see the suffering in one another.
But back to that advice for our younger selves. All of those other qualities I looked for are beautiful in their own way, but if I could somehow go back, or offer the insight of decades to others, it would be this. More so than similar culture, religion, life experiences, education, number of children, like and dislike of extended family, let us praise kindness.
Give me kindness above all else.
It is kindness that I would choose in the person to spend my life with.
Kindness in the love glances.
Kindness in the touch.
Kindness in the listening.
Kindness in understanding.
Kindness is love embodied, love that touches us as we would wish to be touched.
May you, we, each of us, be embraced and welcomed into the kind embrace of a kind friend, a kind lover, a kind beloved, a kind neighbor, a kind family.
The Prophet is said to have so cherished kindness that he said:
everything that has kindness in it
is adorned by it.”
Let us be adorned by kindness.
Somewhere I read that to be part of mankind, humankind, takes… kindness.
Some languages even build that into their words. In Arabic and Persian we are told that the concept of the insan (human being) is etymologically linked to the word uns (intimacy).
Let us be human, become more fully human through this loving kindness, this intimate experience of sharing kindness.
Let us praise kindness.
Let us seek kindness.
Let us cherish kindness.
Let us embrace kindness.
Let us radiate kindness.