When you think about kindness, what comes to mind?
For students in Angels Camp, California, what comes to mind is a person. Someone who exemplifies kindness.
About 20 years ago, the City of Angels Camp (population 3,500) declared itself a kindness zone. And Valentine’s week is when all the emphasis on kindness gets noticed.
Students tie light blue ribbons around trees and posts to signify Kindness Week. They write essays about people they consider heroes of kindness.
Tuesday night, Feb. 16, sixteen students read their essays to their heroes in front of the city council and about 300 friends and relatives assembled in the local performing arts theater.
Some essays told heartbreaking stories. One boy honored a local woman who took him and his mother into her home "when we were living in our car," he said. He described how much that act of kindness had changed his life.
A girl told a similar story. She and her sister were taken in by a young married couple. "They’ve become our guardians," she said. "They’ve given my sister and I lots of care and love. They’ve made us better people."
A boy said his uncle, who died in the Iraq War, was his hero. "My uncle always showed us how much he loved us," he said. "He was the best uncle ever. We had great times together."
The tiny tot students – those who looked like they were in first or second grade – were totally endearing.
One little girl with long blond curls and a big red bow in her hair praised her grandmother. "She has six grandchildren," the girl said in her soft, shy voice. "And even though she has so many, she makes me feel very special. She is pretty and sweet. And she makes good cookies."
An equally small boy chose his father as his hero. "My papa fixes things. He likes to help people. He is nice to everyone in the world."
Another small boy honored a classmate. He said, "Aiden helps. He is kind. He never says mean things. Aiden is Awesome!"
A girl who looked like she might be in fourth grade honored a slightly younger girl. "My best friend is a hero to me," she said, as the two girls stood on stage looking serious and intent. "For three years I was bullied. But she stood up for me. She made my life better. And now my life is really good."
Anthony, a fifth grader, honored classmate, Lorenz. As Anthony read his essay, Lorenz stood, hands jammed into his jeans pockets, staring solemnly at the floor.
Anthony said, "He is nice to everyone. He plays fair, has good manners and is a hard worker. He let me play basketball with him when no one else would. He’s smart. He can do Rubik’s Cube in 32 seconds"
As Anthony finished his essay and the auditorium burst into applause, Lorenz looked up at Anthony and both boys burst into big, bright grins.
That is what kindness does, isn’t it. It make you smile, grin, laugh. It makes you soft and happy, like warm cookies fresh from the oven.
In today’s world, kindness has slipped from consciousness. We think about money and bills and how much we’ve lost to the Great Recession. We think about war. We think about politicians and financial scoundrels and how hard it is to find a job. We think about foreclosures. And some of us think about where we’re going to get the money for next week’s groceries.
Kindness doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s top-10 list.
Except in the City of Angels Camp, California.
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