This morning I got a Facebook message from a friend I hadn't heard from since elementary school. Facebook is weird that way, and often that's all it is: weird. This message was different. This one was a gift.
The man asked if I happened to remember a day, way back in elementary school, when I escorted him to the principal's office after he got kicked out of music class. I said I didn't remember the incident, but I hoped I'd been kind.
I thought that would be the end of our exchange. Another random Facebook moment, quickly forgotten.
Instead, he responded: "You reached back and held my hand. I didn't deserve that ... but I never forgot it."
I felt as if he had reached out a hand to me, a small glimpse of my own, innocent kindness in his palm. I've carried it with me all day.
A gift like that can't be paid back. But it can be paid forward.
The next time I remember someone else's kindness toward me, no matter how long ago it was, I'm going to remind them of it. So they, too, can see themselves for a moment in the light of their best, essential selves.
When Sprout and Sweetpea are in trouble, I'm going to remember that holding them responsible doesn't require letting go of their hands.
And I hope I'll remember to reach out more often to that little girl my friend helped me see again today. The one who, as she walked a boy to the principal's office for his punishment, was probably thinking about how she, too, was sometimes ashamed of something she'd done, some mistake she'd made. And felt afraid of what that mistake might mean about who she was.
I'm going to hold that little girl's hand. I'm going to promise not to let go. I'm going to remind her that she is worthy of kindness. Even when -- especially when -- she doesn't think she deserves it.