“Spread love everywhere you go:  First of all in your own house…let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.  Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness.”

— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Kindness.  On a good day, it seems like such a simple thing.  It costs nothing to speak an encouraging word to another person.  It is no burden at all to be loving and compassionate to the people we meet.  It is a wonderful feeling to be someone who spreads light in a dark world.  On a good day, all of these things are as natural as breathing.  On a good day.

This weekend, I attended a two-day basketball tournament to cheer for my favorite oldest granddaughter and her team.  The competition was good, and their first weekend of play for the season was both challenging and fun.  They came away from their five games as a bonded team, with all the awkwardness of meeting less than a month ago behind them.  It was as much fun to watch this part of their time together as it was to root for them as they played their way to a second place finish.

What made kindness a challenge this weekend was not the girls or their opponents.  The challenge was remembering to be kind when fans for another team shouted and heckled and complained about every decision the referees made.  They were loud.  They were rude.  They not only cheered for their daughter’s successes, but they laughed at our girls’ mistakes.  They accused the officials of favoritism without even knowing that the men were from out of town and never had met any of the girls on any of the teams.

All of this was going on behind me in the bleachers.  I could feel my blood pressure rising as the loud shrieking escalated to levels that would rival a fire siren at close range.  I wanted to shout.  I wanted to hit back.  I wanted to laugh at their girls and complain about unfairness to cover up the mistakes our team made during the very close game.  I wanted to act just as superior and just as uncaring as those other parents, and I was shocked to discover that beneath my surface of commitment to kindness and compassion something could be stirred that was just as ugly as their behavior.

I did not retaliate, but it was difficult.  I did not speak the angry words of criticism or cry foul when our girls’ mistakes caused them a penalty, but they were right there in my mind and ready to spring from the tip of my tongue.  I managed to pass by the other parents in silence and congratulate their girls on their well-played victory.

I would like to present this as a story of my own ability to rise above negativity.  I would like to set myself up as an example of enduring kindness and compassion; but what I learned this weekend is how close to the surface my own negativity lingers.  I was reminded how easily my thoughts of love and light could turn dark.  I was reminded that except for my resolve, I am no different than those other parents whose anger and negativity spilled over during an innocent basketball game.  Maybe what I need to learn most of all is that those other parents are just like me — they have the potential to be positive or negative, they have the choice to build or to destroy, they have the choice to spread light or darkness or acceptance or judgment, just like me.

We must walk in the light, even though we know that the darkness lurks all around and even within us.  Darkness has never dispelled other darkness — the only remedy for darkness is light.  Sometimes all it takes is a kind word or a kind look or a kind expression in the midst of anger.  Let us spread kindness today and remember not to u nderestimate it’s quiet strength and power.