Not merely because Henry James said there were but four rules of life— be kind be kind be kind be kind—but because it's good for the soul, and, what's more, for others, it may be that kindness is our best audition for a worthier world, and, despite the vagueness and uncertainty of its recompense, a bird may yet wander into a bush before our very houses, gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds entirely equal to our own, still there's weather arriving from every direction, the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty may yet prove to be one, so why not allow the little sacrificial squinches and squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate the particular world with minute particulars? Dust's certainly all our fate, so why not make it the happiest possible dust, a detritus of blessedness? Surely the hedgehog, furling and unfurling into its spiked little ball, knows something that, with gentle touch and unthreatening tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked witches of our childhood have died and, from where they are buried, a great kindness has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course, in the end so much comes down to privilege and its various penumbras, but too much of our unruly animus has already been wasted on reprisals, too much of the unblessed air is filled with smoke from undignified fires. Oh friends, take whatever kindness you can find and be profligate in its expenditure: It will not drain your limited resources, I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses, and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.
Michael Blumenthal - 1949-
United Jewish Appeal
My grandmother was eighty-nine and blind and I was a young boy hungry for quarters, so, in the waning light of Sunday afternoons, my parents gone, I would ring the doorbell (my friend Raymond smirking from behind the stairwell) and listen for the slow shuffle of slippers in the hall, the soft thump of her body against the closet. She would come to the door, my parakeet Jerry trapped in her hairnet, stammering a "Who's there?" in minimal English, between the chain and the doorjamb, and, without hesitancy or shame, in a cracked, mock-Hassidic voice, I'd answer: "United Jewish Appeal," swaying my hand, like a small plane moving over an airstrip, toward her. She would open the door—tentative, timid, charity having won out over terror— and reach a palm out into the hallway, the way she reached out under the candles to bless me on Sabbath. "My daughter . . ." she would stammer, "she is not home now," poking her eyes like Borges into the vastness. A better heart than mine was might have stopped there, but I was a boy ravenous for malteds and baseball cards, so I repeated the words of my small litany, "United Jewish Appeal," and reached my hand out again until it almost touched the blue print of her smock. All the while my parakeet sat there, dropping small coils of bird shit onto her hair until she retreated again down the long yellow hallway, reading the braille of the walls with her hands. And I would wink at my good friend Raymond behind the stairwell when the rattle of change clanged out from my parents' bedroom, and we heard again the slow sweep of her feet, and, at last, the shiny fruits of cleverness and hunger fell into my palm, and my grandmother Johanna, the parakeet still flapping like a crazed duck in her hairnet, closed the door behind her, leaving me and my friend Raymond to frolic off into the sun-licked, agnostic streets of Washington Heights, full of the love of grandmothers and of change, forever singing the praises of the United Jewish Appeal.