Life

Nuala McCann: Kindfulness is the corporal acts of mercy minus the awful name

A friend recently spotted a young woman begging at the side of the road, and he bought her a sandwich and a fresh coffee. She took his offering then called him back as he turned to leave. 'Yes?' he said. 'Sugar,' she said, 'Where's the sugar?'

'Tell your mother to put more sugar in that apple tart,' granny would screech

THERE’S a new religion on the block – it’s called kindfulness. It’s just a short skip and a jump away from being mindful. Only it’s not new; it is old as time itself.

Kindfulness is the corporal acts of mercy minus the awful name. Remember the acts – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, bury the dead, shelter the traveller, comfort the sick, and ransom the captive. I’ve never found a captive to ransom, but I’m on the hunt.

My grandmother practised kindness late at night when nobody was looking. She’d leave a box of groceries at a neighbour’s back door in the alley way when they were facing hard times; when someone died, she’d send the family over white linen cloths and candles and food.

My uncle took the old men from the local home out to the beach on a Sunday. He loaded up his grocery van with sandwiches and drinks and drove them to Donegal to sit and look out at the sea, dreaming of youth. There’s probably a health and safety rule against that now.

My mother fed the old woman who lived in the dilapidated cottage at the end of our road.

“Not me, don’t send me,” I’d beg when she made me delivery girl. That woman was a right witch and you can go a corporal-act-of-mercy too far.

Down I’d go like Little Red Riding Hood clutching a basket of fresh-baked goodies for granny. Only granny was no little peach, she was more of a big bad wolf.

“Tell your mother to put more sugar in that apple tart,” she’d screech.

Once, I peeked through her window, took in the ragged curtains and the dirty earthen floor and understood a little better what it is to be poor.

She still had a tongue sharper than an Arctic blizzard.

But when people talk about how neighbours hardly know each other any more and how our lives are so busy that we have little time to connect. I beg to differ. Neighbourliness is there – but, like shopping, it has merely gone online.

I’m in a community that shares tips about good plumbers who don’t get the arm in – well, only when it’s down the blocked toilet. There are tips for decent roofers, washing machine fixers, plasterers. People ask for help hanging up curtains and others volunteer.

There are cats out there who make a career out of getting lost – and people who have a full-time job finding them. There are offers of free goods – a blender, a set of whisks or a whole load of cans of food... just call.

There are other ways that kindfulness has sneaked into our community.

Walk down the street and dwarf daffodils and crocuses smile up from the bases of trees. Someone has planted them just for the joy of it.

Take the books left on a table or a park bench – a free gift for sharing.

The New York Times has a Good News section. Sometimes it feels like we’re living under a constant barrage of heavy news, but it isn’t all bad out there, the paper says. Good news stories include the tale of Samuel Barsky who knits a jumper to match every famous landmark he visits. Niagara Falls, Stonehenge, the Hollywood sign... there’s Samuel in his woollen tribute.

He even has a 2017 Solar Eclipse sweater. So far he has made 119 jumpers, but choosing the one you like best is like trying to pick a favourite child, you just can’t do it, he tells the New York Times.

Samuel has gone viral. There too is the story of Gander. Thirty-eight flights from all over the world were ordered to land in the small Newfoundland town on 9/11. For five days, Gander fed, housed and consoled the sudden 6,700 visitors. Now an award-winning musical marks what happened and the tourist numbers are up.

So let’s hear it for kindfulness – I’m all for knitting blanket squares to cover babies caught up in world disasters; paying for a coffee for a stranger in a cafe and leaving a book on a bench.

It’s a win, win – you feel better for it.

Just don’t expect thanks.

A friend recently spotted a young woman begging at the side of the road, and he bought her a sandwich and a fresh coffee. She took his offering then called him back as he turned to leave.

“Yes?” he said.

“Sugar,” she said, “Where’s the sugar?”

That one is probably a direct descendant of old witchy granny, the plague of my youth.

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