Days after he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Albert Camus wrote a letter to his elementary school teacher to thank him for the kindness shown him as a pupil. I was reminded of this letter today when I read this article. (Link opens another tab.)
The letter in turn reminded me of one kind deed that my late aunt (my late uncle’s wife) showed me on my birthday when I was still 9 or 10 years old. I have many memories of my childhood, both sad and happy ones, but the memory of my aunt giving me money and kissing me on the cheek on my birthday because she said I looked so sad (and I was because my parents had nothing special to give me then!) is still as vivid in my mind as on the day it happened.
It seems to me a kindness shown a child remains in their memory long after they grow up and become adults themselves.
Camus’ gratitude, my own experience of remembering my aunt’s kindness and also reading the testimony of Dr. Herzenstube’s at the trial in The Brothers Karamazov, when he recounted how Dmitry as a grown man had stopped by his office to thank him for giving him (Dmitry), a pound of nuts when he was only a kid – these convince me that when you show a child kindness, they will never forget it and will remain grateful for it for the rest of their lives.
Some may say, this world can show many adults who had received kindness from their parents yet are ungrateful to them. Perhaps so, but the kindness or love from parents are to be expected because the parents had brought their children to this world. It is when the kindness is unexpected that the impact is stronger and therefore unforgettable.
Camus’ teacher was not family; Dr. Herzenstube was not family to Dmitry; my aunt was family, but not my parent, and she had her own 7 children! They did not have to do what they did; but they did it, and that’s what made the children who were recipient of their kindness, remember them well for, into their adult lives.
A child never forgets an unexpected act of kindness. Be kind to a child when you see one. You’ll never know when this child will show you his gratitude.
Here is Camus’ letter to his elementary school teacher:
Dear Monsieur Germain,
I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honor, one I neither sought nor solicited. But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened. I don’t make too much of this sort of honor. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.
It does not take much to put a smile on someone’s face — a very simple gesture of kindness or thoughtfulness can do that. A text message asking how somebody’s day went can make that person feel that someone cares. A flower picked from the garden to give a family member one is stuck at home with, can most likely brighten that person’s day.
We do not need to do something “big” to prove we care and make someone happy.
Sometimes a simple note on a Post-It can do the trick.
I’ve had this torn page from an old magazine on my office wall for over a decade now. The color has faded, but the words always have the same effect on me: jolting me to reality that every action I make, every word I utter has an effect on something or someone. It creates ripples.
Just a short note to remind all of us (myself included) that it is better to be mindful and to be kind and to smile rather than be angry and glare at people especially early in the morning. A simple smile can brighten a stranger’s day. And just maybe that stranger will be kinder to people around him as well.
“No one should be alone in their old age. But it is unavoidable.” Santiago in Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
I think I have written on this theme before, but I am reminded of this again recently rereading Old Man and the Sea and also by something I saw while walking at the park one evening.
While walking at the park a few evenings ago, when the lights had not been turned on yet although it was already a little dark (the lights are turned on at 6:30 in the evening), I saw this tiny, frail-looking white-haired woman, her back hunched, sitting alone on a bench under a tree.
I don’t know her story, maybe it’s not a sad one, but it made me think how at my age now, I love having a “ME” time — being alone during the day and certain of company later in the day when my husband comes home, having someone to talk with about how our day went.
Many times I have heard parents of young children and teenagers complaining about how they don’t have time for themselves and cannot wait for the time when their children become adults and leave the house. But I have also heard many older parents who talk about missing their adult children and hoping, waiting for them to visit or even just call.
Sometimes we behave as if we will always be what we are at present — strong, healthy, not needing anybody. I think the more often we remind ourselves that one day we will need company, one day we will need help, one day we will miss our children, one day we will fear being alone — the more gracious we will be in living our present lives, and the kinder we will be to people whom we think we have no need for at present.
Sure, aging parents can be a burden sometimes, especially when they become demanding or even mean. But perhaps it is their illness that makes them so; they would probably never think of saying or doing these things when they still had full control of themselves. Perhaps they need compassion and understanding more than anything.
I learned this from my mother whose own mother disliked her when my grandmother was still strong and able. But when my grandmother became sick and unable to walk, my mother came and offered to help and forced us, her daughters to help as well. At first my grandmother still refused to talk to my mother but after a while she probably realized my mother was not going anywhere. They were able to forgive each other before my grandmother died. My mother’s humility in front of my grandmother and her sincerity in helping her in her hour of need made an impression on us, her children. My mother was not perfect, but we loved her and took care of her the best way we could. From her we learned that though your parents made mistakes, they did raise you the best way they knew how, and just as you have compassion on strangers who are suffering, you can be compassionate with the ones who loved you enough to try to give you a better life than the one they lived.
We are all going to grow old and weak, if we don’t leave this world earlier than expected.
The sooner we realize this, the more compassionate we will become.
It’s a cold and rainy day, and my apartment has become too quiet for me, so I decided to bring my work to the McDonald’s in the mall across the street from our university.
A few minutes after I sat down, a young woman with a baby sat a few tables across from mine. She was having a difficult time watching the baby, making sure he won’t fall down from the chair as she tried to get something from the baby bag. Another young woman at the next table looked like she wanted to help, but as most Chinese do, she probably did not want to seem like intruding.
When their food came, the young mother (she has to be the mother) became busy with arranging the food on the tray and just for a few seconds perhaps, forgot what the baby was up to. And it turned out the baby had reached for the cup of milk tea and spilled the whole thing. The young mother panicked a little as she called for the crew. Two McD staff calmly came over and even smiled at the mother, cleaned the mess, and one of them later brought her another cup of milk tea.
Before they left, the young mother apologized to the staff and the same man who had helped her earlier just smiled (I couldn’t hear what he said) and also said something to the baby.
Why am I writing about this? Obviously because this is something I don’t often see, especially here in Jimei where workers often look so unhappy and unhelpful.
So, I am grateful to the staff of McDonald’s in Jimei Wanda for making this cold and rainy Jimei day feel warm.
It took me a while to finish reading Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls. I have to be honest and say, I did not enjoy reading it as much as I did Dostoevsky’s novels. This is bias on my part, perhaps, because I am a Dostoevsky fan. It was an almost an effort reading this novel to the end.
Still I am glad I finished reading it even though the novel itself ends in mid-sentence.
Here I would like to share some of the lines that I highlighted and why they struck me.
“For human passions are as numberless as is the sand of the seashore, and go on to become his most insistent of masters. Happy, therefore, the man who may choose from among the gamut of human passions one which is noble!”
The mistake of Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov, the main character, is choosing the ignoble passion of greed, of wanting much more than what he has, and doing everything he can, even if it is wrong, just to get ahead.
Yes, it is human nature to desire, but not everything we desire can be ours. This is the reason it is most often not a good idea to just do “whatever makes you happy.” If every single one of us just does whatever makes us happy, will we all be happy? Someone is bound to cry.
This is not to say that one cannot be happy without consequently hurting other people. Rather, there are many things that can make one happy that won’t hurt others at all, but there are a few things that will surely hurt the others that one cares about if one selfishly follows the desires of one’s heart. I think every human being has been through this kind of dilemma.
“Weariness of everything is a modern invention. Once upon a time one never heard of it.”
Platon Mikhalitch is a young and rich landowner who is weary of life. He finds life and work boring. He visits his neighbor, Peter Petrovich Pietukh, whom he finds annoying because the latter is always cheerful thinking of what to eat next, while he, Platon, is always gloomy.
I can understand weariness of life, and if I have a choice between a long or short life, I’d choose the latter (just until my son can live on his own). However as I still have life and the ability to move, I can think of so many things to do. The problem is not having enough time to do all the things I want to do. So I do not understand boredom when I am doing something.
Maybe it’s because people are made to think that their work has to be fun or exciting or interesting that has caused them to get bored with their jobs. WORK is work. In the past, people worked the land to put food on the table. I don’t think they considered whether it was fun to do or not. They just did it.
Now people don’t have to work so hard to put food on the table, and they get bored. Easily.
So I agree with the author: Weariness of everything is a modern invention.
“Therefore, if it really be that you have no genuine love for doing good, do good by FORCING yourself to do so. Thus you will benefit yourself even more than you will benefit him for whose sake the act is performed.”
Murazov spoke these words to Chichikov after the latter confessed to his lack of real love for what is good and only wants acquisition of property.
Murazov is a wise man. He knows how habits are formed. Even doing good deeds can be made into a habit. In the same way, forcing ourselves to be kind to people we don’t particularly like will benefit us even more than it will benefit them. How?
Eventually we will forget why we didn’t like them in the first place. And if we do not dislike anyone, then our minds are more at peace. Nobody’s living rent-free in our heads. (The irony is the more we dislike someone, the more often we think about them. And nothing is more annoying!)
Published in 1842, Dead Souls is supposedly “widely regarded as an exemplar of 19th-century Russian literature.” But for some reason, I do not find it as interesting, as thought-provoking or as moving as The Brothers Karamazov or The Idiot or Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky’s novels, their characters and their stories are somehow more memorable. But as I’ve spent time on it, I made sure I learned something.