It was during the late 1960’s, and my family and I were about half the world away from North America living in Kwajalein. We had no TV, one radio station, and computers were not available to the public. A phone call to the mainland had to be arranged several weeks in advance as it took a series of HAM Radio operators to make a call. Most of what we did as kids was related to the out of doors. Fishing was a common activity.
We did not eat much fish as a family, so mostly if I caught something I threw it back. One day I caught a rockfish, a type of Bass that was common along the lagoon shore and around the marina docks. A native (Marshallese, a Micronesian from the Marshall Islands) watched me land it. As I unhooked it to throw back, he hurried over and asked if I was going to eat it. “No”. He asked if he could have it and I gave it to him. After he left a friend I was fishing with looked at me strangely and told me I should have charged him for it. When I asked, “Why would I do that?” my friend replied something derogatory about the natives and said he would have just thrown it back.
I guess I was naïve for a 12 year old, because I did not understand anything my friend was telling me. Why would you not do something nice for someone? It was easy to hand him the fish. It was fun to catch and I thought it interesting it might be someone’s lunch. As I have grown older, I have a better sense of that exchange with my friend. The longer I was on the island the more derogatory comments I heard about the natives. It was later in life that I was able to give the remarks a name and understand them as racism.
As I have grown older and not always acted in the kindest of ways myself, I have a sense of why people might not act in a manner of kindness towards another. Sometimes it happens because we are tired and just have nothing left to give. Sometimes it happens because no one has been kind to us for a long time. Sometimes we were not taught to be kind. Sometimes we are afraid that someone might take advantage of us. There are many reasons.
In my own journey through life, I have learned that kindness does matter. Doing something for another, even if it is an inconvenience, matters greatly. It matters to the person receiving the act and it matters to the person giving the act. Acting on behalf of another is a healing thing for both people. Looking back on giving the man that fish, I know from the expression on his face that it mattered. I know how I felt giving him that fish and how much joy it gave me to see his smile and hear his “thankyou”. That is why I did not understand what my friend was trying to tell me. In my faith tradition, Jesus talks a great deal about loving the neighbor, acting in kindness towards another, even to the point of risking one’s own life. To act in love is to experience salvation – a word that at its root means, “To be healed.”
Please continue to be kind to one another always but, especially during this challenging time.