Four kindnesses

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For over twenty years, Eve Brown-Waite followed her heart (and her husband) from Albania to Zanzibar. She lived and worked in Ecuador, Uganda, and Uzbekistan. Her hilarious memoir, First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life (Broadway Books, 2009), recounts what it’s really like to be a (sometimes reluctant) globetrotting do-gooder. She got tired of waiting for Hollywood to option her book for a movie (yes, there’s been talk), so she went ahead and made her own. You can see it on her website: www.EveBrownWaite.com.

Eve is also Executive Director of ACT NOW! inc., a non-profit that empowers youth through improvised movie-making, as well as a volunteer for Hospice, the Community Crisis Response Team, and her local food pantry. Yes, she’s trying to save the world, but only if she can have a good time while doing it! Eve is also a wife and the mother of two teenagers, and is hard at work on her next book. (Whew! It’s exhausting just thinking about it!)

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Four Kindnesses

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

One of the things that happens when you publish a book is that people find you. All kinds of people, including those you had long ago consigned to the compost heap of history. You know who I’m talking about: the old lovers. Yes, you’ve just published a book and now …  you’ve got mail! Another thing that happens when you publish a book is that you attend your high school reunion for the first time in 30 years. So, one way or another, that long lost love is coming back to find you from wherever you had him dead and buried all these years.

Or at least, that’s what happened to me.

I ignored the congratulatory note that the first love of my life sent to my website. Then, I politely declined his Facebook friend request. Then he showed up at the reunion. Later on, he told me that he had come – quite nervously – so that I could have my say; ream him out, dump all over him. He planned to let me do that and then, simply, to say he was sorry. But that’s not what happened.

What happened is, the two teenagers who were once very screwed up and very much in love, had now grown up. And they were able to communicate, to talk and to listen, like grown-ups. He said, please forgive me. And I said, I forgive you.

And then, surprisingly – and believe me, this threw me for a loop, because in my mind, for all these years HE had been the problem, and I was the righteous and wronged party – I was able to see a lot of things that I had managed to forget about my own behavior in our relationship. And I said, oh gosh, please forgive me. And he said, no need, you’re already forgiven.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

These, according to Dr. Ira Byock’s book, The Four Things That Matter Most, A Book About Living, are the four things we all need to take care of in our lives. We talk a lot about accomplishing these four things in hospice, where I am a volunteer. As you can imagine, this is really important business to take care of for those who are dying. Healing old relationships, it can make all the difference in the world, when you’re dying.

But here’s the thing: we are all dying. I hope that’s not too much of a shocker. But ain’t a one of us getting out of here alive. And we won’t all necessarily get our notice that the end is near so we can clean up our business before the ride is over. We have to be doing it as we go along.

I have a friend who calls it burning cleanly on the planet. I call it being in right relation. It’s not easy, because we have to be willing to re-open those difficult relationships, and we have to say those four things. Not just say them. But earn the right to say them honestly. And of course, you can’t do that without someone on the other end willing to engage with you. And often, you and that person would rather not engage in anything at all.

So you’ve asked me to write about a kindness. And in my awkward way, the kindness I’m writing about is the one extended to me from my old love. He reached out to me across many, many silent years. Knowing full well that I might not be happy to hear from him, he contacted me anyway. He knew before I did, that we had an unfinished relationship that could finally be mended. He risked my anger and wrath. He risked that my husband might be with me at the reunion and might punch him out (because of course, he had heard MY side of the story).

But he did it anyway. And he gave us both the chance to say, Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

And it has made a world of difference.

~Eve Brown-Waite

Next week, an essay by Wallace Wilhoit Jr. Please submit your questions and / or Q4K essays (no longer than 1,000 words, and no attachments please) to questforkindness[at]gmail.com

12 Responses to “Four kindnesses”

  1. Q says:

    Thanks, Eve, for this important essay. Forgiveness and moving on–two things we all could probably practice more. And I admire your willingness to revisit high school–wow!–sounds like it was your hardest trip, but well worth it. Thanks for adding your voice to Q4K.

    All, fyi, the new anti-spam question, What is Alicia’s last name? That’s referring to our Alicia Bessette.

    So let’s talk about forgiveness. Do you have any stories like Eve’s?

  2. Forgiveness goes hand in hand with kindness. Good lesson, Eve. Thank you.
    I held on to a lot of negative emotions for a long time after my divorce, but finally came to realize I was just as much to blame as my wife. So I forgave her and forgave myself. That was an important thing for me to learn.

  3. I really loved this piece, Eve. There’s so much to be said for forgiveness, for healing your past in order to better live in the present. I’m eager to check out Dr. Byock’s book. And for all you armchair travelers out there looking for a funny, smart, satisfying nonfiction tale of culture clash and personal growth, do yourself a favor and read First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria. It’s time well spent!

  4. Karen says:

    Wow, Eve. I have experienced forgiveness with my own father in his dying days. I realize he was human. I’ve learned to move on and realize how precious our time here on earth really is, and quickly it can disappear.
    I’ve learned to let go of grudges and little, pathethic, issues I’ve had in my past. All is not worth it.
    It’s when you loose those, that you truly appreciate their life. Why is that?
    I couldn’t agree with you more, Eve. (My junior high school best friend.)

  5. Kristina Riggle says:

    Eve, this is beautiful. What a powerful and positive experience! I agree that giving forgiveness freely is a tremendous act of kindness. It’s a process, sometimes, isn’t it? You can say it out loud, but to mean it in your heart sometimes takes work.

  6. B. says:

    The four kindnesses- tools to use now, so that you can begin to say,’I'm ready’.

  7. BD says:

    This is a beautiful essay, Eve. Whenever I struggle to forgive, I always remember that my only other alternative is resentment. Resentment can really eat you up from the inside out and it often hurts you more than the person who you’re resenting. It’s much better for everyone involved to forgive, forget, thank, love and move on!

  8. Eve says:

    Thanks all for the kind responses. Being a hospice volunteer reminds me every day of what’s important and what just seems important but probably really isn’t. My second book deal fell through a few weeks ago (boo hiss, sorry to share bad news here), and I was devastated until a few days later when I held the hand of a hospice patient as she died. Literally. And then, somehow, that book deal didn’t seem important at all.

    Thanks for having me, Alicia and Q and thanks for the endorsement of FIRST COMES LOVE. I do hope you guys will read it if you haven’t.

  9. Thanks for a beautiful essay. I’m sorry to hear your book fell through but it seems as though your priorities are lined up perfectly. God bless you for the work you do.

  10. Marie Schiavo says:

    My heart is like stone and I read your essay and I tried to listen to your words. Resentment is terrible and eats away at you. I am not ready for forgiveness and I am trying so hard to be ready. I keep thinking of the what if it stays the same? It will all be for naught. That’s what is stopping me. This is not something I am proud of. Thank you Eve for encouraging me to try again and again.

  11. Norm Daplume says:

    Beautiful thoughts Eve.
    I used to feel that forgiveness, or letting go of past transgressions against me,(both real and imagined),was a sign of weakness. How wrong I was. The negative energy of anger and resentment are so draining on the soul. The freeing of the heart,mind and soul from those negative feelings allows all of that energy to be put towards more positive and rewarding avenues.
    I believe opportunities for forgiveness and moving on,present themselves to us at various times in our lives. It is up to us to recognize these opportunities and find the strength to seize that moment and forgive.It may seem like a difficult task, but when the time is right,our hearts give us all that we need to let go.

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