Thursday, July 16, 2009

point & how to be nice


Our time visiting Justin's parents is going well. Rollene is eating up her time with Claire and Claire is eating up all the love love love. Rollene has been shuttling us all over: to the Marshfield zoo, the Rudolph cheese factory (mmm), her (very nice) gym (which serves an awesome breakfast burrito and blueberry yogurt smoothie). She's also enjoyed introducing Claire to her coworkers at the county library and to neighbors. Claire obliges with perfectly timed grins and giggles, quizzical stares and thumb in mouth. The cats - sometimes temperamental creatures that they are - seem okay with a baby in their house. Michael makes it out of the office for an occasional bike ride or errand with Justin and to join us for dinner or a movie before bed. Justin and I have enjoyed wandering the town - last night we drove by my old residence hall (set to be torn down and rebuilt!) and tonight we snuck in a trip to Justin's favorite ice cream place here, Belts. I've been enjoying some great running, returning to a few of my old routes.

Only today have I really felt like getting on the next plane - not because of Mike or Rollene, just because I'm tired. We have a lot to organize this summer. It all feels very in the middle. I'd like to get to the other side. I remember watching my brother and sister-in-law repack all of their suitcases last summer. They stayed up late shifting stacks of clothing and new purchases. My entire summer is starting to feel that way. I think when we get back to my parents we'll take another day in the basement to do a final sort of what stays and what goes. The thought of that - a day of reorganizing earthly possessions (all the junk we don't really need, all the junk we think we really need, and the relatively few things we actually need) - that prospect, oh boy.

How to be nice

Not only did I start feeling tired today, but I also started wondering how to really be nice. I am trying to be nice. Sometimes I succeed. Other times I yell at a car to hurry up and turn. One of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby, wrote a novel called How to be Good. He also wrote High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch (all turned into movies, the last one adapted from a book about soccer into a movie about baseball). Anyway, in How to be Good, a woman tries to figure out what to do with her husband's sudden religious conversion. After ten or twelve years of marriage and a couple of kids, this guy is someone she really doesn't recognize. He does weird things like invite a young man who needs a place to stay to crash at their home. So the wife decides to separate and think things over - there's a lot of other stuff going on in the book too - but she begins to question her own goodness. Is she being good? She's a doctor. Does helping others heal their illnesses count? Should she go on a pilgrimage? Give away all of their stuff?

What does it take for a person to be good?

So lately I've been thinking about being nice. I try to be nice. I like to bake things for people. I see a mom in the grocery store with a stroller and I say hi to the baby and talk for a moment or two. Sometimes I like to pay for a stranger's meal. What I started to think about today was: those are easy ways to be nice. Those are ways that I enjoy being nice.

I've watched my parents be nice to people. Once there was a waitress at Perkins who came to our table to take our order. She was crying but trying very hard not to, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand and smiling furiously, "What'll you have tonight?" Mom asked her what was wrong and she explained that a table of eleven had just walked out on her. So I remember my parents leaving a gigantic tip they probably couldn't really afford. I was twelve or thirteen and I don't think they intended me to notice but I saw that and thought that was really nice.

At some point, you have to be nice even though you don't enjoy it much. Maybe that's called being polite or civil. There is much to be said for civility. And at some point, being nice calls for some sacrifice and when it does, what really counts: that you did it, that you were polite and civil and even nice - or what you felt in your heart in the middle of it?

Maybe we just need to plough through it and sweat a little embarrassment or relief after we try to be nice. Maybe for awhile it doesn't count that you're thinking this is stupid even as you tell the waitress you'd like to pick up the tab for that teenage couple in the corner booth.

I remember waking up in the middle of the night with growing pains. My little brother David is getting those now, in his legs. My muscles and bones would hurt so badly I'd clutch at my thighs and calves and bite my lip. Right now I think I'm getting a few being nice growing pains. I want to learn how to be nice - graciously, not clumsily. (I am so clumsy sometimes and feel so silly about it). I want to be generous in different ways - time, listening, giving. And I guess that if that's what I really want, I need to expect a few growing pains as I learn to sacrifice self and forget feeling stupid and just be nice.


Joie said...

Thanks for writing, Sarah. on a similar line of thought, I often think of love like this. what does it really look like to love someone well? and usually the truth is that my heart is what matters the most in the choices I make- and it doesn't matter so much what the exact action ends up being. In that way, love, being nice, being good... those things can really rip up our hearts when we consider them honestly and try to act on that honesty. thanks for the thoughts you shared.

Angela and David Kidd said...

I'm a big Nick Hornby fan as well - love his stuff.

I have a feeling you are already doing a great job being nice but it's probably something that it never hurts to get better at. I test being "civil" at work routinely. I probably should focus more on being nice outside of work and waste less energy controlling myself at work.

The Adventures of Lobby Girl ! said...

Hey Lady....for the are already nice...and good....and you don't need to work at it. You just are. As I read this, a not too distant memory of a short, painful conversation outside of K-block comes to mind..and I remember a patient and sincere soul who listened, and who gave me a hug...because I really needed one that day.

DC Running Mama said...

I've been thinking about "being nice" a lot lately, actually. I've had a couple of recent experiences (including my incident with the Army guy) that make me wonder if my inner instinct is to kill or be killed. My husband jokes that I am his "little wolf girl" that he has to teach how to behave around humans, but sometimes I wonder if there is more truth to this than I would like to believe. I think we are human and can be nice and good and selfish and horrible all at once.

N.D. said...

This is a great post. I feel like I am working on being nicer now that my life has slowed down and Im not rushing to do everything.

Clare said...

i want to read the book you mentioned...think i could totally relate as i sit here at a quaker conference thingy my husband dragged me to. (i'll post on it but i'll have to be...well, nice.)