I’ve had more than a few conversations with folks recently who have said they feel like kindness is going out of the world.
I get that, and I know better than to think that my experience is everyone’s. That said, I don’t believe there is any shortage of kindness. I just think it’s not getting much airtime. If you need a dose, I suggest you come by the White Horse, in the little town of Black Mountain where I live, on any given Tuesday night about 6:30PM.
It’s free, just come on in. You’ll find other folks hanging around, perhaps talking quietly, but mostly listening. And some kids running around.
Down front, on the floor, not the stage, you’ll find maybe a dozen musicians sitting in a circle playing traditional Celtic music. They’re not getting paid, and they’re not competing. They are of various levels of expertise, and they are all supporting each other, playing together for the pure joy of it.
On the occasional Tuesday night, you might even see a long-haired ten-year-old boy unpack a violin and walk toward that circle, and I promise you — I guarantee — that you will not see any sidelong glances from those musicians. No quietly rolled eyes. Instead, you’ll see warm welcome and making room.
And they might let him call the next tune. He might just play Ashokan Farewell, and they might just ease in slowly, not overwhelming him or pulling the pace a bit faster, but gently, gradually, adding a harmony on flute, violin or tin whistle. Norman might add a steady thrum on the bodhran, or Melinda might lay a few guitar chords underneath. And you’d see a young boy under the influence of music, community, and kindness.
You might see him stick around for an hour or so. When he didn’t know the song, you might notice him looking for drone notes he could play along – a place to fit in.
On an occasional Monday night at The Block Off Biltmore, about twenty miles down the road in Asheville, you could stumble into another gathering of community, 5-3-1. Over a couple of hours, there will be five 10-minute stories, loosely gathered around a theme, told mostly by local community members. A musician will share three songs between the stories, and someone might share one way to make the world around you a better place. Or, on that particular night, the ‘one’ might just signify the sense of unity in the room. People listening to each other, feeling the space between them and the very real connection that can be found there when we look and listen for it are more likely to realize that the sense of unity that such events can produce is not an illusion. It’s the more common sense of isolation that is illusory. We are not alone. We just need to be reminded of that sometimes.
These two events are magical, but I mention them not because they are unique, but because they aren’t. Proximity matters. We have different conversations in rooms where we gather and ‘conspire’, which literally means to breathe together. It’s harder to find on screens, because it doesn’t sell very well. But some things really are still free. And they’re not all that hard to find, if we look.
Gatherings like these two, and book clubs, and faith communities, library gatherings and neighborhood pubs and music rooms, and meetings of community activists (defined as people who believe in showing up and trying to make a positive difference), etc. are the stitches that hold the fabric of society together.
Thanks to all the musicians who understand that music is a tool we use to bridge divides and build community. And thanks to the Celtic Jammers at the White Horse for making my son feel so at home. Kindness won’t be gone until the last of us quits trying to be kind. Kindness will be in the world as long as we keep choosing it.