A short excerpt from Chapter 13…
Acts of kindness are not as plentiful as one would wish. For that reason they are often memorable. They also help form us, giving us confidence and hope in ourselves and, perhaps more importantly, in the world around us. Two gifts I received when I was 11 years old had that kind of impact on me.
In the fall of 1969, in Salvador Elementary School’s combination 5th-6th grade, I found Gwenda, my first American best friend, whose meticulously detailed pencil drawings of faces and hands, as well as her ability to walk over any surface in her bare feet, whether gravel or hot asphalt, were two of her special talents. I will forever remember the day she offered me the gift of a Ticonderoga pencil and her friendship.
Gwenda had been given the job of handing out the math test we were about to take. In the meantime, I was frantically looking in my desk for a pencil, wondering how I could have left all of mine at home. As I closed my desk and worked up the courage to ask my teacher for a loaner, a pencil appeared on my desktop. I looked up to see Gwenda smile with what I thought might have been a wink, or it might simply have been her eyes twinkling with warmth.
My favorite activity that year was to visit Gwenda’s home, where her mother, who had emigrated from England to marry her American GI husband after World War II, had a soothing effect on my soul. I eagerly looked forward to hearing Mrs. Phillips’ voice call out to us each afternoon, to invite us to join her in a cup of tea and biscuit, which she offered from a big tin. She still had a soft British accent, which reassured me each time I heard it. I somehow thought that if she had come to think of California as home, perhaps I eventually would, too.
By the end of 6th grade, my mother’s efforts to catch me up on American life by signing me up for Camp Fire Girls, softball, swim team, and piano lessons, had helped wipe away most of my subtle Japanese accent and my tendency toward shyness. But it was a generous gift of a box of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories — almost the entire series — from the mother of an older girl at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, where my mother had enrolled me in Confirmation classes, which helped transform me. I had become a voracious reader and Nancy Drew became my personal guide on how to be an American girl.
These two memorable gifts — a pencil and a box of books — healed my lonely heart. They showed me how a simple act of kindness and generosity had the tremendous potential to soothe and heal. What I discovered much later was how good it felt to commit acts of kindness whenever one could, as much as possible. Little acts were almost better than big ones: a smile, a warm greeting, opening a door for someone. Kindness or, some might say good manners, can go a long way toward making the world seem like a welcoming place. As much as possible, this is what William and I have tried to show Natalie since birth, in our interactions with each other and when we are out in the world.
In an interview I recently read with the Dalai Lama he said, “I always had this view about the modern education system: we pay attention to brain development, but the development of warmheartedness we take for granted.” I agree with him wholeheartedly. It is one of the reasons we decided to retreat from the traditional school setting for two years. By having Natalie “skip middle school” we knew we would be able to limit her exposure to the negative energy of cliques, a social construct that seems to reach its zenith during middle school, and which has come to be both expected and accepted as if it is a natural process of growing up. We decided it would be far better to spend two years nurturing Natalie’s personal and social identity, while reinforcing her “warmheartedness.”Copyright © 2011 Two in the Middle – All Rights Reserved