A soft word, a little kindness for 2019

On my walk the other day at Wilmer Park, by the water, here in Chestertown, I ran into a retired English professor from Washington College, also here in town. She told me why Beloved was her favorite book written by Toni Morrison. Years ago, Toni Morrison came to Washington College to speak, and during her talk, she read from that book, unpublished at that point. Of course, after publication, she received the Pulitzer and the American Book Award in 1988 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Some books are classics and timeless. Some behaviors are classic, classy and timeless, something that we need to see more and more of – just to be reminded. A little kindness goes a long way.

Lady Jones…saving her real affection for the unpicked children of Cincinnati, one of whom sat before her in a dress so loud it embarrassed the needlepoint chair seat….

“How’s your family, honey?”

Denver stopped in the middle of a swallow. There was no way to tell her how her family was, so she said what was on the top of her mind.

“I want work, Miss Lady…Anything….”

Lady Jones smiled. “What can you do?”

“I can’t do anything, but I would learn it for you if you have a little extra.”


“Food. My ma’am, she doesn’t feel good.”

“Oh, baby,” said Mrs. Jones. “Oh, baby.”

Denver looked up at her . She did not know it then, but it was the word “baby,” said softly and with such kindness, that inaugurated her life in the world as a woman. p 291, Beloved

On a different walk, probably a little more than 20 years ago, I was walking downtown. I was passing the brown house with a porch where a little old African American lady used to sit. She was outside that day. She was always friendly and we always greeted each other. On that day she asked me how I was, saying, “How you doin’, Sugah?” Well, for me, also, it was that word “Sugah” – another version of “Baby” – that changed my day, and maybe “inaugurated” me in some way, into another place, too. It had been a particularly sad, hard day. I can’t remember why. But I was fighting tears and trying to look up and to be OK. And when that kind, little old lady called me Sugah, I was changed. The day was changed. For a moment, I was a little girl again instead of a grown-up. Her softness and the soft, musical sound of the word lifted me and reassured me that everything was going to be all right, that I was going to be OK. I’ve never forgotten it. I always looked for her and was always glad when she was rocking in her chair. After a while she wasn’t there any more. She was really old. I never knew when she died. I thought I’d know somehow but I didn’t. But that word “Sugah” lived on.

Sometimes a dose of this kind of thing is all we need to get a new perspective or a breath of fresh air so that we’ll know it’ll all be OK.

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