Ash Wednesday was the beginning of the Lenten season, a time dedicated to prayer, worship, contemplation, self-sacrifice and service to others. For most of my life as a practicing Catholic, I "gave up" something for Lent. Non-Catholics often call this the "Lenten diet."
In my college years, I tried to give up candy. At that time I often ate bulk candy, since I didn't yet have to fear that the fat roll would metabolize at the same rate as the candy was digested.
After my friend Sandi pointed out that when I gave up candy, I took up a love affair with chocolate cookie dough in its place, I gave up all sweets. I was sure I was on the right path, until my roommate Maureen explained that snacking on Captain Crunch as a "cereal" was not really giving up sugar either. OK, fine, I banished all sweets except birthday cake. I was blessed with a Lenten birthday.
By the time my kids came along, I realized I wasn't really sacrificing anything. I was already on the Lenten diet. Once my kids entered religious education classes, they were taught to think of small acts of service and kindness to others as part of their Lenten renewal. Kindness -- what a concept! This would be so much easier to accomplish, wouldn't it? Boy, was I wrong!
The "be right, not kind" movement that has swept America from its Puritan roots is hard to overcome. It has permeated everything, from what we say in e-mails, to how we talk about co-workers and relatives, to how we drive and think.
To put it simply, being mean and right gets more attention. We love to tell tales of how bad people are and never talk about someone being nice and kind.
What can we do to start being kind? Send an e-mail plainly asking for what you need done, without pointing out the work is overdue.
Don't point out other people's mistakes, just help them do it right. Let someone out ahead of you when waiting in traffic, instead of zooming quickly by him because you've already waited through three red lights.
Let the person with three items go before you in the checkout line. Show compassion to the mom with three screaming kids, instead of telling the kids to shut up. Turn off the cell phone instead of complaining loudly about the poor service. Give good service to your co-workers, just because. Teach your kids to accept and love all gifts, not just the ones they really, really wanted.
Talk nice about your spouse. Send a thank you note to your sitter, neighbor or mom for helping you out of a bind with the kids again. Thank one of your former teachers who is retiring.
In winter, clean someone's car off just because it snowed. Smile at someone having a bad day at work and buy him his favorite beverage. Bring in bagels just because it's Tuesday and you want to.
Decide not to scream at your kids for a whole weekend. Take your wife her morning coffee in bed. Bake your neighbor some cookies. Buy a supermarket certificate for a co-worker whose husband lost his job. Cook dinner even when you don't normally cook.
Think kind thoughts about the people who annoy you most. Help your mom before she asks. Pick up litter when you see it. Keep your harsh words to yourself. Be patient.
Kindness and graciousness may be hard to see, but if you look for it, you will be overwhelmed, even inspired. You can search it out and spread it on your own with amazing results. That's my Lenten gift. Pass it on.
Darlene Waldmiller, of Williamsville, is doing her best to promote kindness this Lent, and all year-round.