Someone I love did something so elegant, so courteous, so big-hearted today that it left me without words. I mouthed helplessly at the telephonic instrument. Adjectives ran through my head like ticker-tape, but none of them was good enough. In the end, rather faintly, I said: ‘You are the greatest gentleman I know.’
Apart from the elegance and the gentlemanliness and the goodness and the general rising above the petty and the common and the mean, there was an enormous amount of kindness in what my Great Gentleman did. It was kindness on an epic scale; kindness as a force that could move mountains or change the world or transform the weather. It was kindness not as a sweet, bland, mimsy thing but as a muscular, transformative, difficult thing. Sometimes the easy thing is not to be kind. The easy thing is to be cross and resentful and self-regarding and entitled and filled with blame and bile. The easy thing is to stomp and rant and shout and roar and point the finger. You, you over there, you are to blame for my misfortune or my rotten luck or my shitty day.
To be kind is often to rise above all that cheap clamour. It is to expand the heart, not narrow the eyes and shrink the mind. It is the big rather than the small, the generous rather than the mean, the empathetic rather than the selfish.
I quite often think about the people who don’t make the headlines. I mean the people who really are rather heroic in their daily lives. They don’t win Oscars or Grammys; they don’t hit the front page or rake in fat salaries. But they face chronic pain with dignity or bear aching hearts under bright smiles or incrementally, quietly, resolutely make the world a slightly better place. I spoke to a friend today who demonstrates a daily bravery. He would loathe the word and find it embarrassing, but luckily he does not read this blog so I can speak of his stoicism and courage. Every day he faces one of those situations that is near unbearable, that stretches the human heart to its limit, that is lacerating and unfair. He does not make a fuss. He does not ask for special treatment. He never, ever complains, not even by the tone of his voice. He is one of the millions of people who privately, away from the clamour and the spotlight, do something remarkable in their ordinary lives.
I think of virtues like that too. I think kindness is one such. It doesn’t sound very sexy or thrilling. It’s not a song and dance virtue. It does not wear a top hat and tails and shimmer and shine like Fred Astaire. It sometimes sounds a little like a consolation prize. (‘Well, she was no beauty, but she was really very kind.') But the older I get and the more bashed about the edges and the more impatient with the superficial and the specious, the more I cherish bone-deep, authentic, no messing virtues like kindness.
My Great Gentleman rose in greatness today, although the odds were all stacked against him, and I watched him in awe and wonder. ‘You know,’ I said, ‘if I could love you more, which obviously I couldn’t, I would.’ He laughed for quite a long time.