“In so much as it is within your control in a situation, be kind.”
My niece, Nicole, was telling me about a family meeting that she and her husband, Jay, had recently conducted with their five children.
That commandment was the meeting’s foundation. Jay and Nicole stressed never to add to a stressful situation by tone, words and manner.
Nicole and I come from a tart-tongued family. Mountain people don’t mince words. Everyone will tell you that Nicole is “the sweetest person I’ve ever met.” She and my friends Stevie and Karen are blessed with naturally humble dispositions.
I struggle. There are many times I have to overcome myself. There are times that I utter the right words but the tone isn’t what it should be. Sarcastic, some might say.
For over a week after Nicole’s telling of the family meeting about kindness, her words resounded in my ears. It was a hard week. A week when I had a few doses of “righteous” anger and I had to still myself, be quiet, pray and replay Nicole saying, “In so much as it is within your control, be kind.”
We had hired someone on the Rondarosa to help with bush hogging and such, he stomped on my heart so hard that I will remember it until the Lord calls me away or my memory fades. He had been told repeatedly, “Don’t touch a tree. If in doubt, ask.”
Tink and I had gone into town together and when we returned, the trees — one so perfect that it was not to be believed — had been butchered. Seventeen years ago, I planted those trees. I prayed over them. I watered them. I babied them. And they grew gorgeously.
When Hurricane Ira produced a historic storm through the center of Atlanta and its outlying areas a few years ago, Tink was tucked away safely in Canada on business. I trembled with upset. Within 20 minutes of raging winds hitting the Rondarosa, a stately 100-year-old oak thundered downward, taking boarded fences with it.
It started at 2 p.m. and did not let up until 3 a.m.
I opened the door around 11 p.m. to let the dogs out and the wind blew us back. There, at the center of the front porch, a maple that had nearly died 10 years earlier, twisted like a corkscrew. Horrified, I watched as it twisted in one direction tight, released itself then knotted up again. I did not think it could possibly survive 85 mph winds.
It did. But I don’t know that it will survive the butchering it took during the late summer heat before the tree was dormant.
Daddy always said, “Worry not over what money and hard work will replace.” I wish money and hard work could fix this.
The perfect tree, the one that looked like the tree I drew when I was in the third grade and situated Cindrella next to it in a pink dress — it won the class contest — was so horribly mangled that I laid down on the ground beside it and cried. Mournfully. Sorrowfully. Tears splash my hands now as I recount this story.
“Be kind,” saith Nicole.
After a day of pure grief, I called him. I was extremely even in tone. I surprised myself. Levelly, I asked, “Did you misunderstand Tink? Did you think you were supposed to cut the trees?”
“No,” he replied. “I just did it.”
I obeyed Nicole. There was nothing to do but grieve. If God takes a tree, I understand that it was His in the beginning, just loaned to me for a moment’s time. But when man takes one by his own hand, it is devastating.
A reader wrote, criticizing me for writing on the importance of being sweet.
“It’s offensive,” she stormed.
Really? Well, I know of one guy who is grateful that I deliberately choose “sweet.” My other choice would have been REALLY offensive.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.