on kindness, kerouac, and tolstoy
i will be backing into this if i begin by quoting a russian intellectual and novelist. but so i begin.
Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.Leo Tolstoy
the subject, once again and always, is kindness.
it was unknown to me, and perhaps little known more broadly, that at the turn of the 19th century leo tolstoy neared completion of what he considered an imperative life’s work. not anna karenina, not war and peace, not the death of ivan ilych. but rather something he considered more timeless, more lasting: “a wise thought for every day of the year, from the greatest philosophers of all times and all people,” as he described it.
or as cultural critic maria popova once put it, “to be human is to leap toward our highest moral potentialities, only to trip over the foibled actualities of our reflexive patterns. to be a good human is to keep leaping anyway.” tolstoy’s book, she wrote, was to be “a reliable springboard for these moral leaps.”
in the middle of his 55th year, in march of 1884, tolstoy had set out to read and reap from a circle of the greatest thinkers and spiritual leaders who had shed light on what was most crucial in living a good and righteous life. he dug deep across millennia and miles, reading epictetus, marcus aurelius, lao-tzu, buddha, pascal, the new testament — a reading list he deemed “necessary.”
it was to be his florilegium (a compilation of excerpts from other writings, “mashing up selected passages and connecting dots from existing texts to better illustrate a specific topic, doctrine, or idea,” writes popova. the word comes from the latin for “flower” and “gather;” a bouquet of curated wisdoms). tolstoy saw it as something of a roadmap, daily sign posts pointing the way toward “the Good Way of Life.” in a letter to his assistant, he explained his project thusly:
I know that it gives one great inner force, calmness, and happiness to communicate with such great thinkers as Socrates, Epictetus, Arnold, Parker. … They tell us about what is most important for humanity, about the meaning of life and about virtue. … I would like to create a book … in which I could tell a person about his life, and about the Good Way of Life.
he spent 17 years at it, and shortly after the birth of the 20th century, in 1902, he completed his manuscript, under the working title A Wise Thought for Every Day. two years later, it was published in russian, and nearly a century later, in 1997, it appeared in english translation, all 384 pages of it, under the title A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts to Nourish the Soul, Written and Selected from the World’s Sacred Texts. for each day of the year, tolstoy plucked, or gathered, quotes by great thinkers, then added his own musings and connective tissue on the subject, with kindness as the sinew and spine of the book’s moral sensibility.
i bought the book yesterday, in the long hours after i had once again dropped my beloved husband at the curb of terminal 3 at o’hare airport, as he set off once again to race to his mother’s bedside, to honor her, to fill the hospice room with his prayer and his unending grace. in the serendipities of a long afternoon that turned into a longer night, maria popova, she of BrainPickings, the cultural compendium and literary candy counter, dropped in (to my email) with her musings on kindness, a heaven-sent subject in the hours of deep vigil i was keeping for my mother-in-law whose signature and lasting memory is exponential kindness.
i read this entry from tolstoy:
The kinder and the more thoughtful a person is, the more kindness he can find in other people.
Kindness enriches our life; with kindness mysterious things become clear, difficult things become easy, and dull things become cheerful.
i read this from jack kerouac:
Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.
and that’s when i decided i would not merely buy the book but practice it. every day. in honor of my beautiful, blessed mother-in-law who died in the wee hours of this morning, friday, july 2.
her memory will be a perpetual blessing, to me and to all who fall in the radiance of her kindness practiced each and every day.
ginny kamin made lives more beautiful by her practice of perpetual kindness.
“Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.” a life’s instruction, brought to you by leo tolstoy and one ginny kamin….imagine how you might live it today, one kindness at a time….
May her memory be a blessing and may the kindness she shares radiate through and through others . It seems it already is.
Deepest comfort to your hurting hearts.
bless you so so much. and thank you. your words literally feel like balm to my heart. xoxo
May she now be a blessing to the heavens as she was here on earth. Our thoughts are with all of you.
wrapping my arms round you in a giant hug. i love all you chairs. and i feel you holding me up this wobbly sad morning……xoxoxo
Even when we know it’s coming, the devastation is somehow surprising. 💔
May Mrs. K’s memory be a blessing. Her kindness lives on in memories of her and through all of you, who practice it every day. Love you.
It always is, isn’t it (hollowing, wobbling, swirlingly sad). Your heart has borne these aches over all the years and just this week. You are indeed fluent in the unchartable landscape.
Like everyone here, my heart shares in your sorrow. The more we love someone, the more it hurts when their physical presence is gone. Kindness – what a legacy!
So so so true. Those very words saved me when my own dad died…
I’ve never actually met Ginmy Kamin but I feel like I know her from having pulled up a chair with all of you. What a meaningful Legacy: to have been a woman of kindness and to be known by that trademark.
Barb, you and she must have been kindred spirits in many ways, maybe most notably through the kindness you’ve shared in each of your corners of the world!
May Ginny rest in peace and may we all honor her memory by being a tad more kind today and everyday. Amen.
Bless you, dear dear MJH❤️
Condolences from the Macchiones. ❤️
Thank you, dear jenny.
Sending sympathy, embraces and love to you, BK, the boys and everyone who knew beautiful Ginny. Through your eyes and words we learned of and from a woman who lived kindness. Thank you.
bless you, bless you. wordpress gremlins at work this morning. some days they get let out of the cage, and wreak holy havoc on comments. they duplicated me a couple times this morning too. xoxox
(oops–weird WordPress duplication–so sorry)
God Bless you and yours as another star has been added to the firmament.
beautifully put, and i will think of that tonight, and during tomorrow’s pyrotechnics when the sky lights up in starbursts…..xoxox thank you.
Unable are the loved to die, for love is Immortality. . . . ~Emily Dickinson
In love, in kindness, in sweetest memories, may Ginny’s legacy shine forever and ever. I am keeping you and your dear ones in my heart and in my prayers…. May comfort, tenderness, and peace enfold each one of you…. xoxo
oh, your E Dickinson file is deep, and always always gives forth the wisdom otherwise inexpressible. bless you, and thank you, for keeping vigil in the ways you do all through this long and winding road. xoxoxoxoxoxox
Here’s to Ginny Kamin, long may her kindness live in the hearts of everyone who knew her, and knew OF her, because of you. Her kindnesses will always inspire me. I picture the gifts all over her house waiting for just the right recipient 🙂
what a beautiful image you hold. all will be delivered, i assure you. and like you i will live to string along her lifelong work of kindness upon kindness. xoxox
Sending prayers and virtual hugs to you and your family. I am so sorry for you loss! May the kindness Ginny shared with the world will shine a light on all and remind us to be kind at all times!
bless you, and thank you, dear dear JACK!
my sweet and blessed blair, and his sister brooke, wrote this beautiful obituary for their mom. it just dawned on me, i might leave it here at the table. every time i open it, and see her beaming face, the tears just pour and pour. i cannot believe she’s gone. xoxox
bless you all for your kind, kind words…love, bam
My heart goes out to you and your family over the loss of your dear mother-in-law, Barbie. Your posts over the past two weeks have been wonderful tributes to her. Ironically, a year ago (almost to the day) my mother-in-law passed away. We hadn’t been allowed to visit her in months due to COVID, so when her health began to deteriorate, we were beside ourselves. Mercifully, when she was transferred to hospice, we were finally able to sit at her bedside. I’m glad that there were no COVID obstacles preventing your husband and his sister from spending their final days with Ginny.
Thank you very much for sharing Ginny’s obituary. Coincidently, my mother-in-law was also a teacher in the public school system who pursued her masters degree in order to assist special needs students. She too was a mentor, a hospital volunteer and very active with the congregation of her church. Isn’t that interesting? I have such fond memories of her. Inspired by Ginny.
oh, sweet kathy, yes, a few times to the airport we were saying, thank heaven this is now, and not a year or even six months ago. so much seems to have been waiting to explode till just post COVID’s lockdown. i am grateful they eased restrictions when your mother-in-law was in hospice. bless hospice nurses once again. they are saints among us, i swear. sending a giant hug. xoxoxoxo