Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ubiquitous kindness revisited

Last week I blogged on the widespread kindness I am finding in the world. I focused on specifically on the way the sports and school systems in Springfield, Oregon have gathered around my visually impaired grandson, allowing him to do things like successfully run on the cross-country track team. All of that is still true.
But I need to revisit the theme because Reilly ran in his second race this week, and it didn’t turn out so well. He ran into a pole.
Apparently the race began late and the coaches released more kids than usual onto the track at the same time. The first part of the trail followed a city sidewalk, until it veered off into a more rural path. It happened on this sidewalk, complete with telephone poles. The crowding of so many kids, the narrowness of the sidewalk—who knows why, but it all threw Reilly a little off. Even though he was looking straight ahead, and even though the accompanying runner was right there, he ran full force into the pole. He’s fast, and those around him watched with horror as he hit, bounced back and crumpled to the ground.
He rallied quickly, but felt dizzy and disoriented. He was taken to the hospital and then kept home the next day to watch for signs of concussion. He didn’t have one. Young bodies are resilient, and Reilly finished the week back in school. Next week he plans on racing again.
But this has served as another wake-up call. Reilly behaves so normally that we frequently forget the extent of his impairment. Even he forgets, which is good. But it can be dangerous, too.
It’s made me wonder if I might have been a bit glib in my last post about God’s grace and kindness permeating the world. I could even be tempted to blame God for letting this happen, or to blame myself for not praying enough. And of course I could blame the system—the very system that I saw last week as demonstrating the ubiquity of kindness—for letting Reilly down.
I could do all of that, but I’ve chosen not to. I will continue to affirm the power and pervasiveness of God’s grace. But I need to put it in the context of this imperfect world, where accidents happen, kids go blind, and millions of refugees wander Europe in desperation. I need to ask, with tears, “Where is God’s kindness in all of this?” I need to admit that I don’t know.
But I need to keep asking. Keep affirming. And keep praying, even offering my life as part of the answer.
So next week my prayers for God’s manifest kindness and grace will accompany Reilly around the curves of that cross-country trail. I will dare to prayer for the refugees across Europe. I will dare to ask how I can be involved.
And I will continue to affirm the ubiquitous kindness of an all-seeing, loving and powerful God.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The ubiquity* of kindness

Some say that iniquity is ubiquitous, but I see it as just the opposite. I see kindness lurking around just about every corner, lying in wait for the right moment to jump out and offer you a lollipop or an organic pear, depending on your preferences.
I see it every time a car stops to let me cross the street, even where no marked crosswalk exists. I see it in my neighbors bringing the left-overs from their Indonesian meal, thinking we might like to sample their country’s cuisine. I see it in the number of old friends who kicked in on Facebook to wish me a happy birthday. I see it every time Hal fixes breakfast.
Yes, it’s kindness that wins the prize for ubiquity. It’s everywhere!
Most recently I saw it in the Willamalane Park and Recreation Department in Springfield, Oregon. My daughter Kristin lives there with Jon and their three school-age kids. The oldest, Reilly, has been visually impaired since birth with a rare combination of ocular albinism and optic nerve hypoplasia. (I’ll dispense with definitions; you can google them if you’re curious.) Simply put, he doesn’t see well. Corrective lenses bring his vision up to about 20/800 in each eye.
Other than that, he’s a normal, bright and out-going 13-year-old. He attends a public middle school (always gets a front row seat in class), plays several musical instruments and loves sports.
People and organizations go out of their way to make sure Reilly’s life is as normal—and as rich—as possible. From the school district, to the Lane Regional Program for kids with special needs, to the county park and rec department, and the state association for the blind, Reilly is provided with services that help him learn to navigate his challenges. These includes an iPad and computer with special apps, weird binocular glasses that let him watch movies, braille lessons, large print library books, a support group of other visually impaired kids and their parents, participation in a summer camp for the blind that includes horseback riding, and much more. These acts of “official kindness” are provided at no cost, as are so many services to kids with special needs.
Reilly is athletic and has actually been on a soccer team since the first grade. His keen sense of hearing helps him follow the action, and when he gets close enough to see the ball, he does what needs to be done to it. Most spectators don’t know he has a problem. And in the first grade, the kids are out there mostly to run around and have fun.
But now in middle school, it isn’t working out so well on the soccer field. So Reilly is changing sports and has joined the cross-country track team. However, it’s quickly become clear that vision matters in this sport, too. And here’s where that ubiquitous kindness pops up again.
The Willamalane Park and Rec, sponsors of the team, have developed a plan. It seems it matters to them that Reilly be a successful member of the team. So this last week, on the day before the first meet, a trainer took Reilly on a special tour of the trail, marking curves and potential problem spots with colored paint. And on the actual day of the meet, an adult runner accompanied Reilly the whole one-and-one-half miles. Other kids on the team had agreed to look out for Reilly, too.
He made it to the finish line, of course. When asked about his experience, he responded, “Awesome!” (that ubiquitous middle school phrase).
Even awesomer—the amount of kindness built into the systems that take care of our kids.
I recognize that Jon and Kristin live in a middle class school district and that their taxes help fund these services. I also know that in the Springfield/Eugene area the same services reach to all social and economic levels. Kristin has become a special-ed teacher for the visually impaired, and many of her young “clients” come from families that definitely could not afford these services otherwise.
On the other hand, I suspect that across our country as a whole, many children with special needs fall through the cracks. These types of services are probably not uniformly available to all. Freedom and justice—and kindness—for all remains more an ideal than a reality among some populations in our country.
At any rate, I rejoice in the specific kindnesses shown to my very specific grandson. And I trust that Reilly himself in turn will become a source of ubiquitous kindness.
And maybe even of justice for all.

*ubiquity: great word, meaning a state of being widespread, all around us if we only have eyes to see

                                    On your mark, get set, GO!


                                         Made it!