After the Apocalypse, Does Kindness Endure?

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In addition to PURE, Julianna Baggott is the author of seventeen books which appear under her own name as well as Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode; there are over fifty overseas editions of her books. Most notably, she’s the author of the National Bestseller Girl Talk, The Madam, and The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, for adult readers; and The Anybodies Trilogy and The Prince of Fenway Park for younger readers; as well as three collections of poetry, including Lizzie Borden in Love. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Best American Poetry, Best Creative Nonfiction, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Here & Now. She teaches at Florida State University, and is co-founder of the nonprofit Kids in Need – Books in Deed, getting free books to underprivileged kids in Florida.

Film rights for PURE (Grand Central Publishing), published today, have been acquired by Fox 2000. For more information visit http://www.juliannabaggott.com/bio.htm. For the official book trailer, click here.

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After the Apocalypse, Does Kindness Endure?

My latest novel, PURE, is a post-apocalyptic thriller. I’ve thought a great deal about our self-destructive nature, but also about what endures. And so here is a question. After the apocalypse that few have survived, does kindness endure? Can it?

One of greatest most ordinary, daily cruelties — to my mind — is passing people by without considering them as full human beings. And one of the greatest kindnesses is to pay attention to others, to listen.

As a writer, this is a kindness that I’ve been rewarded for so many times that it’s almost a selfish desire to listen to others. It’s not that I’m just trawling for good narratives, though I love a good story. It comes from a deep desire in me to hold onto the past, to preserve lives, to keep.

This past week, I was at the American Library Association’s conference and was lucky enough to hear Robert Leleux talk about his upcoming memoir, The Living End. Although he worked his way toward the  strange, inexplicable, and unexpected joys that came through toward the end of his grandmother’s life — reconciliations and forgiveness, the tapping of a well of love — he started by talking about the devastation of losing his grandmother’s brilliant mind to Alzheimer’s. I’ll paraphrase — It was like someone had thrown a match into the Smithsonian.

I was sitting on a panel, facing the audience, willing myself not to cry into my mic. His story hit home. My grandmother’s senility — which became profound — was an essential part of my childhood, and contributed, undoubtedly, to my becoming a writer. As I watched her forget, day in and day out, the simplest things and finally the faces around her, I felt the strong sense of loss. All of her memories — a vast storehouse of a life — were slipping away. I wanted to hold onto that life, that accumulation of memory.

This is why I love to listen to stories and why I like to write them down — ink them so they’re not simply lost into the air, adrift. One of the things that always makes me cry is footage of the passage of time set to music. (I think of the film Same Time Next Year.) It’s all so fleeting.

In life, it’s efficient not to walk around considering every person’s full humanity. But it isn’t kind. And, moreover, when you do consider someone’s full humanity and acknowledge it, you are also living more fully. Your empathy expands — and so does the world’s collective empathy.

There are studies now that show that acts of kindness — and self sacrifice — are more common than we thought in the animal world. We are all tied together. We aren’t simply trying to survive for the sake of sole survival. We want to survive, together. When we pass each other by, when we don’t take the time to listen (whether we jot about it or not), we’re denying the humanity of others and in so doing we deny our own.

My answer to the question of whether kindness survives post-apocalyptically is yes. Hope, faith, love. They’re all inside of us — wired in. I need to believe that this is the truth — even in light of our darkest motives and most brutal acts. Yes, kindness is with us for good.

~Julianna Baggott

3 Responses to “After the Apocalypse, Does Kindness Endure?”

  1. Kindness trumps all else in the long run – People respond to kindness and want to help those they perceive are kind. Yes, there are wolves out there, but kindness will overcome. During trying times, people will need to band together – I know they will choose kind people over the wolves.

  2. Heather Leah says:

    Not sure how I missed this post, but I’m glad I’m seeing it now. Kindness is hard wired, as is love, joy… I think the darker things are there too, but they’re more learned behavior, in a way. I think the more we are kind to others and ourselves, we leave more room for that kindness to grow and stretch even further.

    I miss the regularity of this blog, for sure. A friend of mine told me today that she is so happy but she didn’t want to share it in fear that she would offend so many others in her life who aren’t happy. I told her to not only embrace her happiness, but share it, scream it from the rooftops. The world needs expressed happiness, just as it needs words and moments of kindness…now more than ever. Thank you!

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