In any longer and drawn out act of kindness—such as helping those struggling with addictions, chronic pain, disability or just in teaching someone how to work on cars, garden, knit, or swim—you may find that there are times when you want to give up. Typing a relative’s dissertation, bringing food to an elderly parent, or just taking care of the duties of life so that your family can eat or sleep in a comfortable and clean home may bring you to a point of weariness. You may often feel like you haven’t got it in you to do any more. Sometimes it is completely appropriate to say, “I have to pass this task on to someone else.”
However, in reality, sometimes these tasks are ours to do; sometimes no one else can do them—so, out of our love and a sense of responsibility, we keep going, even if we are completely exhausted. We become like that Marathon runner in the first Olympic Women’s Marathon (Los Angeles, 1984): Gabriela Andersen from Switzerland staggered to the finish line of the marathon in such a state that she came near heat exhaustion and the frightened crowd thought they were watching the woman’s death. She determinedly finished–coming in 37th, which was not the point she was remembered for, but rather that, in such a state, she finished the race at all.
In her case, the heroism of it was that she finished the race.
When we have a responsibility to finish a task for our loved ones, whether working a job to provide for them or to do something that someone needs us to do, our motivation for finishing is our love for others; we do the tasks out of kindness. But when we get burned-out or exhausted, we often forget those deeper motivations and just get onto a kind of emotional auto-pilot, where our determination to finish becomes our focus. Determination can be spawned by love and kind thoughts, but determination is not in itself love. Determination is setting our faces into the wind and pressing forward. Kindness and compassion and love are tender and caring thoughts, feelings, and actions that make us remember the human connections and relationships for which we act and that make us determined to finish important tasks.
Determination to finish a task is important. Remember the snail and the rabbit story–The Tortoise and the Hare? Who wins the race? The one with the determination and steady pace to make it all the way to the end. However, our lives are not actually a running race, so the process of getting to the finish line is also important. Do we survive the race to the end? Do we remember why we are running it all along the way? Do we focus so much on the task that we lose track of kindness toward the people whom we love and for whose sake we work?
I prefer the lesson of the snail story referenced on Jenny Ebermann’s blog post, “Enjoying the Present Moment—The Story of the Snail” about a snail invited to a coffee party, but who enjoyed the two-day trek to the event and was therefore late and missed the whole thing. He made the trek all the way there, but didn’t consider the trip a failure. The snail’s response to being late was that he could now enjoy the way back, just as he had enjoyed the way there. The moral here was “We should enjoy our journey through life” especially if we are conducting ourselves on behalf of those we love.
Considering how we go through our tasks is just as important as completing them. When we are mindful of how we live, we are much more likely to enjoy the process of our everyday life and make it more enjoyable for those around us, too.
Doing so is only kindness.