I’m taking courses in psychology toward a master’s degree in counseling. I’m quiet. A teacher in the program calls me “self-contained.” If it means observing without engaging, I’m surely self-contained. VERY self-contained.
My present course instructor’s name is Harold. His peers in Adlerian psychology refer to him as “the patron saint of lost causes.” If you want to help someone with a problem but cannot, call Harold. He’ll sort it out. He’ll fix the problem.
I have no problems. I’m self-contained. Kind of proud of it, to tell the truth. Just really anxious when I have to speak in class.
We’re in an exercise in which each student is expected to express something. I feel dread. I’m desperately breathing. One person at a time, it grinds its way and comes around to me. My turn. He softly calls on me, and to the class he says in a seriously ominous voice, “If you say so much as one cross word to him, I’ll kick your f—— teeth in.”
With that introduction, I find it surprisingly easy to express myself.
Five years later, I find words for what happened in that moment. It was the first time in my life that I heard kindness expressed in a way that made me feel protected. Tears of gratitude come to my eyes. He didn’t have to do it, but he did. Deliberately.
Growing up with damaged people in the aftermath of war, struggle, and conflict, I’d never experienced that before. Kindness can easily go unconscious in the midst of stress, but can also be easily, deliberately, revived.