Kindness when it's the hardest thing

I’ve been thinking about kindness lately, not random acts of kindness that are so fashionable these days, but the hard, hard work of kindness as a response to those who cause you harm. I read a long piece in the Washington Post online about Mark and Jacki Barden whose youngest child Daniel was one of the 26 shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the US late last year. Writer Eli Saslow spent a week with the Barden family and describes their life without Daniel, the auburn-haired, gap-toothed seven year old whose image, along with images of the 19 other children who died at Sandy Hook, was shown across the world in the days that followed the shootings. The story takes the longer view we didn’t have last Christmas, and it made me reflect on courage, the courage to endure, and on kindness in its truest sense.

The Bardens have been working to encourage legislative changes that will stop gun killings in the US. They were standing with President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden of the White House after the US Senate refused even the most banal changes to gun regulations, Obama’s hand gently resting on Mark Barden’s shoulder as he introduced the President, Obama’s bowed head revealing how powerless even the most powerful man in the world is against fearful hearts and closed minds.

They sleep in one room now, the family that’s left, three on the bed and one on a mattress on the floor, Mark and Jacki, their 13-year-old son James and their 11-year-old daughter Natalie. James constantly spins Rubik’s cubes to settle his nerves and Natalie is frightened of everything but especially of going to school. For Mark and Jacki, the worst time of day is the hour between 7.30 and 8.30am when they used to be alone with Daniel because his school bus goes later than the older kids’ buses. One morning they go out somewhere they’re not known for breakfast but they see a local family who didn’t a lose a child. Another morning they invite the neighbour in, whose daughter, Daniel’s best friend, was in the other class and lived – it’s too much to bear. And still another morning they go to the bus stop anyway and wait for the bus. The driver – who knew Daniel well as the kid who raced the bus every morning from his own driveway to the stop – gets out and hugs them.

Here then is a family shattered by the total opposite of kindness, the opposite of courage, one young man’s hatred and rage, perhaps bred through isolation and self-hatred, I don’t know. There’s no way of making sense or good of this, especially in an America that seems so far unwilling to budge on the issue of individual rights to own whatever guns and ammunition you think appropriate. And yet, the Bardens, and other families who lost loved ones, not only endure. They keep working towards change. They’ve learned to modify their language so as not to alarm the lobbyists and politicians they meet with. You don’t say “gun control”. Instead, you say, “gun responsibility”, not “magazine bans” but “magazine limits.” They get up every morning and they go on. I don’t know how they manage to do anything.

Reading the Bardens’ story reminded me that in the days that followed the Sandy Hook deaths, Robbie Parker, the father of Emilie, another child whose life ended that dark December day, gave a media conference at which he offered condolences to all the other families who’d lost someone, including the family of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old shooter. “I can’t imagine how hard this experience has been for you,” he said to this other family. His capacity for kindness – reaching out to the family of someone who harmed him so much – remained with me.

I know I am not as courageous as these families who’ve had so much asked of them. They are trying to make something good after their children’s lives were cut down too soon for no reason. Their courage, facing the unthinkable day after day, and transforming it into positive action, is extraordinary. Their kindness is anything but random. We’d all wish a different life for them. We’d be thankful there are people like them in the world.


Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 13 July 2013. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!