Kindness, part 2

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A few months ago, I was taking probably the hardest yoga class of my life with the marvelous Raghunath, and somewhere toward the end of the class, when we had to do the millionth warrior two pose, a woman I knew from our regular Tuesday night class, looked at me with probably the same astonished and exhausted face that I had at that moment, and, barely able to lift her arms, said under her breath to me, I’ve got nothing left.  

That is exactly how I find myself, again, late (for me) on Saturday night. Which is why I am sharing with you not a new essay but one I wrote about two years ago. Once again, however, it has to do with kindness.

Jean Marino was the meanest girl in my eighth-grade class. She was terrifying in the way that girls could be in the early 80s, with her feathered hair, fierce black eyeliner, and tight Jordache jeans. You didn’t mess with Jean, who on the first day of school stuck her gum on a classroom sign that said “Do Not Chew Gum in Class” and took one look at me and said, “I don’t like that girl.” She and her three best friends called themselves The Dizzy Crew and they were already drinking and fooling around with high school boys before most of us had any idea what that meant.

I had figured out early on that the thing to do was be incredibly, impossibly, nice to the Dizzy Crew at all times.  “That’s really great!” I said about an okay-looking ashtray one of them had made in the pottery class we took together. And she looked at me, conflicted, and said nothing. Eighth grade is exhausting for most people, I imagine.

One day in science, one of Jean’s friends made some comment about my (non-Jordache) jeans and the entire class started laughing. I laughed too, which was, I figured, the right response. The laughter went on for a good long time, longer than would even seem reasonable in the middle of a class. But eventually something became apparent: Jean was furious. For reasons I never understood, but may have had to do with my hard work and regular compliments, she actually stood up. “Stop laughing at her!” she said, and everyone stopped, stunned. “I am sick of you picking on her! She’s really nice!” Her eyes were blazing.

This moment, like so many other moments of astonishing relief in my life, seemed to stop time. Or at least that’s how I remember it, just sort of dangling there, to be revisited over and over for the next 30-plus years. It was a moment right out of an afterschool special and even though it happened to me I know it doesn’t sound believable.

From that moment on, I was treated with the utmost respect. Jean Marino liked me. No one wanted her angry.  The simple lesson here, taught to me by the meanest girl in my eighth-grade class, is that kindness, effortless or not, can go both ways.

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