Families

Ana Veciana-Suarez: Hope shines through the onslaught of anguishing news

If there was ever a time we needed to believe in the redemption of kindness, in the humanity of our neighbors, surely it is now. I don't know of a single person, regardless of political persuasion, who wasn't left reeling from the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

This, however, is not a piece on better background checks or a ban on assault-style weapons, both of which are desperately needed. Nor is it a commentary on how basic safety has been politicized and white nationalism has once again reared its ugly head. It's not about why I (and so many of my friends) now think twice about going to the type of public places that have become our killing grounds. Malls. Festivals. Churches. Schools.

No, I'm not writing about any of that. Today it's about those little pinpricks of hope that shine through the onslaught of anguishing news. You know those stories well, the ones reported all too rarely that nevertheless give you goose bumps and a lump in the throat. Stories that make you think maybe ... just maybe ... if only.

Here's one. Ruben Martinez, an 11-year-old El Paso boy, wanted to do something to honor the people who were killed in his hometown, when a 21-year-old mowed down back-to-school shoppers at a local Walmart. So he came up with the #ElPasoChallenge, which encourages each person in his city to do 22 good deeds for others.

The sixth grader came up with some suggestions: Visit a nursing home; write someone a letter telling them how great they are; donate to a needy family; hold the door for someone.

Then he walked the walk. Last week he delivered dinner to first responders and visited several stores to spread the message.

While we're on the subject of children and kindness, here's another heartwarming tale you might have missed: A 6-year-old boy from Georgia asked his mother to emblazon a very special saying on his back-to-school shirt. He could've chosen anything – a monster truck, say, or the logo of a sports team – but instead he asked for these words:

I will be your friend.

His mother explained that the little boy wanted all the kids to know he was there for them. So simple, so powerful. So kind.

Of course, kindness is practiced by adults, too, though sometimes – in rush hour traffic, in line at the supermarket, waiting at a doctor's office – I find that hard to believe.

But here's an example: Several weeks ago an Alabama woman received a letter that complained about the state of her house. "Your eyesore is affecting the resale value of OUR homes," it read. "Do better!!!"

What the cowardly letter-writer didn't know is that the woman was going through a very rough patch. Her husband had lost his job, her health was on the skids, and her 3-year-old son, who is autistic, was battling stage 4 neuroblastoma.

The woman posted the letter and her son's story on Facebook, urging others to "try being kind to your neighbor" and to "say hello to people." The response? Overwhelming. One person created a Facebook page to help organize volunteers and donations. The lawn was mowed, debris was removed, and supplies were delivered to the family.

In no way do I want to suggest that kindness alone will solve the difficult and dark issues that have nurtured the corrosive hole of hate in our society. That's going to take courage and willpower, and a renunciation of the special interests that have corrupted our political system. But kindness can, and does, serve as a salve, an antidote.

Consider the science. When we're kind, the body makes serotonin, the feel-good chemical. Even witnessing an act of kindness triggers the production of oxytocin, aka "the love hormone," and endorphins, the brain's natural painkiller.

Kindness, studies have proven, is contagious. So share some. Spread it like a virus.

(Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at avecianasuarez@gmail.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.)

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