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