Be kind she said…

At first  they nodded and smiled as usual on our daily walks. Nothing unusual there, it’s our neighbourhood.

But then the pandemic arrived and didn’t  leave.  For a few days  we were confused and offered the same  greetings, though we all knew nothing would  ever be the same.

Soon after, we watched PM Jacinda go to her podium to address the nation with sincerity, a sense of urgency – and  two words: ‘be kind’.  If nothing else was certain in the new world of COVID-19,  then it was  this phrase which  created a mantra  many  remembered as we went about life in the new normal.

The more the crisis deepened, the more her two compassionate  words turned into actions. Neighbours followed the rules and we now passed each other at the prescribed social – distance, though we met with more warmth.  The official  advice may have separated us but it also evoked more effusive, if slightly self-conscious greetings.

“Social distance, social distance” we often joked as we passed each other on generous berms. A year earlier my wife had bought a T-shirt in Oz with an eerily apt slogan:  Ew, People!  it said – provoking more chuckles. And in these encounters. we began to feel a recovering  sense of community.

The PM’s phrase took root as young people asked us if asked if we needed anything from the besieged outposts of supermarkets, where panic pulled some apart.  But while that was happening a young mother living in the flat above our steep driveway told us not to struggle up to the road  pulling our rubbish  bin.  “My husband will do that for you” she said firmly.   Then the same day, a young  friend from years ago, remembered us, and  turned up at our door  with  roses.

All of this was humbling – kindness was being practised, even lavished on us. But The Elderly, hmm… not a word we thought would apply  to us, not  the once-upon- a-time ‘60s Swingers.

Still, with daily warnings that our generation was most at risk of catching COVID -19, we finally grasped the reality – we were old (okay we’ll settle for Elderly!) But those two little words from the PM, helped in a small way to shift us towards a society where values like kindness came before money.

Her comment not only promoted, neighbourly kindness,  but told us that although we might be old,  we mattered.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.