Kindness From a Stranger

It’s the season for random acts of kindness, and this month I have a small, but beautiful experience to share with you that happened to me a couple of weeks ago.

Last month I practically lived at Starbucks in order to complete my writing goals. Sometimes with friends, and sometimes alone, I always try to sit by the window. The view, no matter how abysmal, always gives my gaze and mind freedom to explore something larger than the room I’m sitting in.

One November evening, I was sitting alongside the window by myself when the sun was setting, the clouds a brilliant orange, a unique beauty to be had for where I live. As much as I complain about my geography, there have been quite a few show stopping sunsets to behold. I’m naturally someone who gets energy from the sun, so when it goes down, I’m immediately tired. Likewise, when it comes up, I find it hard to sleep, as if caffeine could be transferable through light and the moment it beams into the room, I’m suddenly lighter, energized, and happy. So I tried to get work done, but in this few passing moments where the setting sun was changing in such divine ways, I made sure to look up every few minutes to integrate with this beauty. One never knows when the sun will come out again here at this time of year. I looked straight at it, imagining the light passing through my skin and becoming a part of me, a keeper of the light.

It turned out that someone noticed my attempt to become one with the sunset. Shortly after the sun went down, I packed up and headed out the door. Someone politely stopped me from behind when I got outside.

“Excuse me, this is very awkward for me, but I just wanted to give you this.” said a middle aged man with a foreign accent that I couldn’t identify. He handed me a folded up napkin. Confused and curious, I said some surprised and enthusiastic exclamation of “okay” and went to my car to read it. Here is what it said:

   My favorite thing about this is that this person did not leave their number. They wanted no involvement, nothing to gain from the interaction. They simply had the pure intention of recognizing the beauty in another person and wanting to make sure they knew that. As someone with little faith in humanity, this touched my heart on such a deep level, and for the first time in a long time, I had some hope for the kind of people that are out there. I felt like there must be people who see each other for more than just objects, and more than what they want them to be for their own interests. There are truly those who are able to recognize a genuine moment, or characteristic in a person, and leave it at that appreciation.

   But the thing is, this experience did not end there. Shortly after that, I found myself back at the same Starbucks where the tables had turned, and I felt compelled to do something kind for someone else. It was night this time, and a boy and his mother sat at the table across from me. I’m usually very caught up in my work, but something about this boy’s stature and expression screamed at me. With no life in his face, he looked out the window as his mom spoke at him, occasionally getting caught up in whatever he had on his lap top. I felt like no part of him wanted to be there, and I wondered how this could be, until someone else joined them and I realized what was happening. They were there to meet with someone who could help him apply to colleges. Instantly I understood this boy’s dread, and went back to my work with the case solved. Some time afterward, I heard the guest get a bit louder and frantic in his speech, so I looked up. The poor boy was crying, and in his eyes I saw myself. It was a person who had completely lost hope. He did not believe that his efforts were good enough, whether they were or not, who knows, but in this day and age when immense pressure is put on youth to get high scores and do every extracurricular activity known to youth, it can be unbearable. I had the same feeling, the same reality, both in high school and into college. I started to hear more of what this guest was saying.

“You have a score of _____… What this college wants is ____…I’ve known people with ______ get into _______… I think you have a great chance with _____… You do sports, you do everything. That’s going to make you more sellable… Do you do varsity? Mention _____ and it will be a great essay… What’s a good attribute to describe yourself? Like, would you say that you’re the life of the party? People always say they’re going to get good grades but what are you going to offer to the university?”

I was ready to vomit just listening to this. Since when did people become numbers and a sales pitch? Immediately, I ripped out a piece of paper from my sketch book and started writing.

   In my note to him, I was quite frank. I made it very honest, and made it clear that it was from a perspective that had been through it all. I gave it a sense that although this feels like the end of the world, it is all a lot of hype and unnecessary stress (I believe I specifically chose the word ‘bullshit’ as my adjective. It has been my favorite adjective as of late). I told him that future me would want my past self to know that my dreams are valid and worthwhile, but that they’re going to change. They are not fixed. That’s a part of life. So if everything is constantly changing anyway, there’s no use in having so much turmoil over what will or will not be. I told him that he was not a number, or a sellable commodity, that he had something to offer no matter what the school boards wanted. I told him that life was short, and to be truly fulfilled is to find what your authentic self has to offer, and provide that. I told him that in the end it was all going to work out, which is needed to be heard after putting so much hard work and stress into something of this magnitude. Although it was incredibly awkward, like it was for that guy who saw my face looking into the sun, the kindness that I was given gave me the courage to stop him on the way out the door and give him my note.

You never know what people are going through. You never know what is happening in a person’s life, or inner world. This is why kindness, and most of all speaking up when no one else will, is so important. I don’t have to go into rates of suicide or how stressful modern day life can be. Anyone reading this will know and can relate in their own way. So please, if you see someone struggling, do something small for that person. If you notice something beautiful in a stranger, compliment them, or simply tell them what you see. It’s the time of the year when everyone needs it, and when the spirit of the holidays makes it viable.

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Kerry Jane

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Facing the Blind Deaf Stone Alone

“…the sea’s only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head…” – Primo Levi


Let me just say, I hate this sculpture.

I don’t know where it came from or why it’s there. All I know is that I’ve had to look at it almost every morning for three years. Three years and thankfully not four, as I spent one year in California, which only seems like a dream now.

It is displayed up on a hill that the express bus passes on its run from the South parking lot to campus. Every morning I saw this wretched thing and questioned what it’s supposed to mean. What’s the point of a concrete swing frozen in time? Why is it pale yellow? I don’t know what the actual intentions are for it, but to me it symbolized something very cynical, dark even. Like a warning sign to anyone entering campus, there’s a subliminal message of fruitless efforts, inhibition of joy, and an overall sense of hopelessness. Fruitless efforts for when you’re on a swing but the chains are fixed. Joy of a favorite pastime activity taken away. Knowing that even if the thing were to come to life, you’d only go back and forth indefinitely, until you got off. As of 5/20/16, I got off this swing and walked away.

It must be very hard for others to understand, with the great reputation for “higher education”. I understand this, and I also understand that this is my journey and you have your journey, and there aren’t going to be equivalencies at ever turn. But I mean every word when I say this was the hardest part of my life. To me, this was a time when I was thrown into a dark room with no light and no exit point. It was like being stuck on a road that never ends. I strapped myself into some sort of machine that looked like Kerry, but was not Kerry, and went about my life in the way that was asked of me. I didn’t feel like my life was my own. All efforts I put forth were washed down the drain so consistently that it brought me to the point where I even questioned if there was some divine intervention putting all it’s strength into sabotaging my plans and putting me on an entirely different route. It put a veil between me and the rest of world so that when I went to push, nothing moved. Every visualization of of trying to become something was squandered, and no one who knew me saw it. I don’t know how they could. When you’re moving through a similar medium, and people experience something entirely different from what you are, it is almost impossible for them to put themselves in your shoes, and so on top of everything also came isolation and loneliness.

Thankfully, when I turned away form the world and went inside, I found something. It was Metanoia, a light in the dark, something with potential disguised as something small and ambiguous. It was a seed, and it’s this seed that I’m going to water and nurture from now on.

The human race is dissonance, a cacophony of emptiness. People castrate their consciousness with alcohol, drugs, sex, money, and comfortable routine. Being even just a little disconnected from that in developing years allowed for an authentic emanation of self. This sets me apart more than anything else from my peers. It just may be the disruption in the pattern that made my efforts ineffective here. I found essence, and thats all I want to experience now, untainted by the vibrational garbage drowning it out and forcing it under. I look around to see that family and friends have not been as lucky to have a center. Or am I the unlucky one? Facing the blind deaf stone alone, it sometimes feels like I was placed in some sort of solitary confinement born out of the collective unconsciousness. When you enter, you begin to live another life entirely. Facing the blind deaf stone alone, I’m not accompanied with anyone who has the capacity to see me, or know what it is I’m trying to achieve here. I’m up against so much right now. I’m up against my unconscious peers when I seek enlightenment. I’m up against my genetics which was born out of generations of people who were afraid to take risks and lived comfortably numb, asleep at the wheel as my brother likes to put it. I have no role models, or examples to follow. I have no way of navigation. I have no finances. I only have a vague sense of the home that lies somewhere on the other side of this, far, far away. I desperately want to get there. I am uncertain, but determined, and maybe I needed Stony Brook University for this reason, to be plunged into darkness so that I would no longer tolerate anything but light, and everything that comes with it.

To all those listening, thank you, and I love you.

 

Artwork credited to Niken Anindita

Embracing the Intellect of the Heart

   In our society, there is an enigmatic taboo that leads many to distrust what they’re instincts tell them to do, where to look, how to be, etc. Sometimes for good reason, but sometimes in excess. From a very young age, all we want is to be accepted, or perhaps to at least be considered “acceptable” in some way if you were not someone who cared what others thought. Either way, we have all struggled to meet a standard at some point in our lives. This is how we’re guided to follow the grain from square one, until we come to a point in our maturity where we completely forget we are following something external at all and are tricked into thinking everything we want and strive for is related to our authentic selves, or true purpose. It is because of this that we sometimes stray away from what we are intuitively pulled towards by the heart, and replace it with our mental constructs and external ideas.

Over time, I’ve been lead to the idea that the heart has an intellect that either no one knows or no one acknowledges. To many, this statement might be very confusing because we’ve made the very definition of the word ‘heart’ to serve as an antonym for the word ‘intellect’. Perhaps this is a symptom of living in separation of the two: “Use your head” or “Follow your heart” we say. We seem to use one or the other depending on the situation. But what if we merged these two concepts together, and used them at the same time? What happens then?

   Personally, I have found that I’ve used my heart to figure out where my mind is supposed to go, upon which my mind takes over and synthesizes what its given. Then, it would be my heart’s duty to feel out the conclusions I’ve drawn, and so on. It goes back and forth in an ebb and flow continuously. In rare instances, I find the two coalesce, like two bodies in space that circle around one another until gravity finally leads them to join in an epic blaze of light and color. They become the same thing essentially, that is what I meant by there being “an intellect to the heart”, which opposes the separation the two concepts.

Two white dwarf stars orbiting each other every 5 minutes.

Photograph courtesy NASA/Tod Strohmayer (GSFC)/Dana Berry (Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

 

The result of this has always been interesting. I’ve come up with my best ideas and produced my best work in these states. But for whatever reason, I see many people not trusting the way they feel, and rely on what they see, or vice versa. I can’t help but notice that we as a society live in a sort of disconnect that keeps us from reaching our full potential, truthfully in many ways apart from what I’ve even discussed so far.

But allow me to diverge for a moment, because I have something I wish to convey.

   I truly believe that certain instances call for you to act on your instinct rather than what is customary. The right thing to do just might be the opposite of what your mind advises. For example, life-changing inventions and problem solving skills generally require an “out of the box” method of approach, as we like to call it. Well, what is this vague “out of the box” thing people speak of? I am no expert but logic would lead me to believe that it involves avoiding the perception that is no longer providing any solutions to the problem, and what most likely lead to the problem in the first place (a rewording of the well known quote by Albert Einstein “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”).

   Sometimes we seem to think that something needs a lot of thought and intellectualization, which is likely a product of our education. However, you may inadvertently think yourself into a box that will not lead you anywhere beyond what you can see. A problem may call for a solution that requires a completely different angle of approach. I have found a method that works for me to avoid this trap. It is one simple statement: ‘I know that I don’t know’. It is known as the Socratic Paradox, where one knows that they know nothing. It is possible to have conclusions come out of this approach that are not entirely accurate, but at least it comes from an honest place that lacks any bias that may steer me away from the truth. It’s a good start is all I’m saying. And truth is so subjective that I really can’t ever say anything with complete certainty as we all have our own truth, with threads of validity woven through it all. But when I am listening to someone preach something or share their opinion, I now always ask myself this:  “Where did they begin with the creation of that belief?”

In starting with “I know that I don’t know”, I’m choosing to be careful about contaminating my own understanding with someone or something else’s (which is probably already riddled with mistruths because I’ve never known anyone to approach life in such a clean-slate way).

I can hear everyone’s thoughts right not at this point. They say “But Kerry, what does this even have to do with what you were saying in the beginning with the heart nonsense?”

Calm down, I’m bringing it home.

   Perhaps for some of history’s game changers, the “out of the box” notion is disguised as this moment where the idea of the head and the heart connects, creating the capacity to reach conclusions that could not be made otherwise. Its a sort of reaching out of the five senses, with knowledge previously gained guiding the way, and the willingness connect to something greater than yourself or what you already know.

   If we are to be guided by a true purpose, or wish to live a life of authenticity, we must challenge preconceived notions, understand where it is that they come from, and in doing so, open up to the intellect of the heart.

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Featured image credited to Jacob Jugashvili