the kindness of Kim

the beach

The day I heard of Kim’s passing, I rode my bike to the beach and let the wind chill the tears on my cheeks. The pain came over me in waves all week long. I know her children far better than I knew Kim herself, and my heart ached to think of Sage, Lila, and Toby motherless.

Would I sing at the memorial service? Of course. What an honor to be asked, and what a relief to have something to give. The feeling of powerlessness dissipated, at least a little.

Winter in New England brings with it cold clarity: no leaves or blossoms to obscure the underlying structure of the trees. Lately I’ve felt myself stripped down, too. The energy that seemed abundant in warmer days flagged in January, and my commitments seemed to bury me as deeply as the world was buried in snow.

buried

I’ve been here before, and I feel foolish to find my feet dancing the same nonsensical steps. I overcommit because I want to give. Will it ever feel like enough? I grew up a missionary kid, so a “save the world” mindset is my birthright. Lately I’ve wondered about donating all my possessions and living amongst the poor. Would David be cool with that? Would it be as simple as it sounds? Most importantly, would it appease the voice inside that whispers Not Enough?

This I know: when I find myself bustling mirthlessly from one task to the next, I’m doing no one any favors. I cannot live trapped in chains of my own forging. I apologize. I tell the truth. I apologize a second time. I let go of the parents-and-babies music class. I let go of Local Vocals, the community chorus I founded with high hopes.

I spend the week learning songs Kim loved. Ben was in Lila’s class at Stoneridge; he’s happy to accompany me on the piano. We rehearse together before the service. Thank heaven the songs aren’t easy, I tell him. Our minds will be fully occupied by the music. I pray to God that I’m right.

I cry throughout the service, except when I’m singing. Friends and family tell stories of Kim: the English major, the Deadhead, the community builder, the book club member. I watch the luminous faces of Toby and Lila and Sage from my seat on the stage, and I realize that they will be okay. Their mother danced with them in the kitchen. Their mother showed up on friends’ doorsteps with brownies and threw a rubber chicken at her coworkers. Nearly every person who takes the microphone mentions two things: her kindness and her humor.

Kim worked to raise money for non-profits, but she also took the time to read poetry and listen to music with her kids. In the scope of her life, I see my own with new clarity: my stripped-down tree branches reaching toward the March sun. Some folks live amongst the poor. I offer the gift of song. The gift is not the point. It’s in the way we give.

With every eulogy I hear a voice within me say, Kindness is enough. Humor helps, too.

The day after the service is warmer than it’s been in months. The daffodils on the kitchen counter open their faces toward the sun. I do the laundry and send the emails. I pause to kiss my husband, to watch the cat stretch. I sit down to work on my novel but instead I write about Kim. You don’t have to know a person well for her to change your life.

daffodils