Do you know the value of kindness? I’m not talking about those people who do things for others to make themselves feel better or those that require any kind of personal gain from their actions. I’m speaking of a wholesome kindness coming from a good heart and desire to help their fellow man—-making the world a kinder, better place. No accolades expected or needed.

Some people can live such harsh lives they may not be aware of how important this is in the world. Some may have never experienced true unconditional kindness. I’ve met just such people in my life. It’s sad, as their environment has turned them dark with narcissism. Personal gratification is their only goal.

It never ceases to amaze me the people that consider themselves to have a “kind heart” or who are “following in the way God wanted” yet everything they do is for their own personal ego. Every action to lead them to feel better about themselves. Yet when a person falls down—-they criticize and offer no assistance. When a person is impaired —-they judge. If a person has gone through hardships—-they think of themselves as better and offer no compassion. Does that make them truly kind —-or closet narcissists?

Please allow me to digress.

As an adult, I’ve been exposed to the harsh criticism of negative people. For whatever reason, these people tear me down in order to feel better about themselves. I started to believe the harsh criticism—-though it had no basis or truth. I withdrew from the people who brought out my sunshine.

Conversely, as a child, I grew up in a household with a strong Catholic influence. When I say strong —-I mean intense. It was not harsh or overbearing—-more closely related to a safety net. Church was a place to go for guidance, comfort or acceptance. Going to church was more of a requirement than something I enjoyed. Kind of like cleaning my room or doing the dishes.

In my family, my grandmother was a matriarch—-what she said—we did —-without argument. It’s a good thing she never asked us to step in front of a moving train, as I’m sure we would have done so happily without argument. We gave her all of the respect a matriarch deserves. As with most great matriarchs she was very in touch with her spirituality—-her sister (my great Aunt) a nun—-two of my aunts pledged to the convent as well. My mother was president of the Alter’s Society, which translated to the priest having dinner at our house on numerous occasions. I spent my grade school years in parochial school with nuns as teachers and my aunt as principal. We were at the convent often visiting with everyone there. We were a Catholic Mecca!

Before you think of the old school nuns that scared children half to death and traumatized with rulers across knuckles daily—-these were a different breed. The nuns that I was exposed to were smart —-happy—-enthusiastic —-spiritual yet not overbearing about it—-and calming. They could make the worst of days—-amazing. They taught me kindness—-integrity—-and to love completely without fear as a barrier.

One nun in particular was tall, slender and has a smile that intensifies a room with happiness —-her mere presence warms your soul from the inside out to a point it bursts a smile out of your heart. In addition to teaching academics, she also played the organ and piano. During school presentations, her entire face lit up while she accompanied our little voices. She would sway to and fro while she played. Her excitement beaming from her face with numerous expressions that to this day bring fond memories. One glance her way and we’d smile. A real smile—-from the core. She was—-sunshine.

Years and years have passed since those days. As adults, we get into the stresses of life. Work, children, relationships—-at times these experiences build animosity—-pessimism—-life breaks down into a rut. We forget our core and allow the world to break us down—-taint that child—- that smile beaming from the inside out. Our sunshine turns into dusk—-then darkness.

I was guilty of this. Through the years I let small things adjust my sunshine—-pessimistic people—-the loss of loved ones—-difficulty with family members—-it all shaded the sunshine.

Do you have a person in your life that is a rock? They are there no matter the mood you are in? To quote Marilyn Monroe, “If you can’t handle me at my worst—-you don’t deserve me at my best!” Wise words.

My family’s rock recently had her 50th Anniversary. After all of the many graduations—-weddings—-awards ceremonies—-for the first time all attention was on the rock. She is a nun—-Phd—-counselor—-confidant—-therapist—-exceptional listener—-advisor—-sibling—-and my aunt. Words can not describe the amazing person she is. Nor can they describe the love I have for her. She rarely places a demand, but when she does, everyone stops and listens.

As for me, I’m stubborn—-strong willed—-independent—-and moved over a thousand miles away from where I grew up. I hadn’t been home since 2006, when I made a promise to a friend to attend a class reunion. Since that time—-quite honestly—-I checked out.

Until now. Two months ago the “Rock” summoned my attendance to the 50th anniversary party to be held at the convent. It was turning into a family reunion. The rock wanted me there and that was that. Who argues with a rock? I was seriously thinking about arguing until family protocol kicked in.

I had no idea what to expect. Would there be arguments—-uncomfortable situations—-criticism—-I was planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

When I arrived at the convent, a calm melted over me. It was familiar—-soothing. One by one each of my aunts came to give me a hug. The soothing familiar hugs—- only those that love you from the soul out can give. Humans sometimes call it “unconditional love”. What is that? I define it as a love beyond yourself. A love with no expectations or demands. Animals know it well. It is a love that does not require accolades, attention or explanation. It just accepts you quietly and establishes your safety net. It gives you a raft when the flood waters of life are raging rapids.

We all went to lunch at the convent. It was like going through the line in grade school —-tray and all. As I was walking with my tray to join my family—-there she was. The happy—-smiling face from my childhood. That amazing smile still polished on her face—-her beam of light stronger than ever. My entire body filled instantly with a warm, soft, burst of sunshine—-breaking through with a smile. After all of these years, she had not changed a bit! For the first time in years—-I was “home”. I was the burst of sunshine I had always been—-the positive spirit —-the dreamer that believed I’d rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right. Once again—-a hug reminded my core who I was —-and still am. The sunshine came out of hibernation and beamed stronger than ever. I merely needed a reminder it was there.

In life, tragedy can bring depression—-cold hearted people can bring disappointment with negativity. As humans we forget the sunshine within us. Smiles and hugs brought back my sunshine—- whose sunshine will yours bring back?

In life, we must deplete the shadow—-look into our souls—-find the sunshine! Always remember to hold your head high—-let your sunshine beam from the inside out—-and strut!