Kindness. It is the first of Hewitt's four community values. It is also a word that gets thrown around quite a bit. Kindness is a word with old roots in our language. Meaning “compassionate, loving, full of tenderness,” and “deliberately doing good to others,” the word kind comes from the Old English cynd(e) and (ge)cynde of Germanic origin, meaning “natural, native, innate,” originally “with the feeling of relatives for each other”--hence the word kin.
Within families and other tight-knit groups that have a lot in common, it is more or less expected that one will have “the feeling of relatives for each other.” But feeling genuine kindness for strangers who have different identities, life experiences, or interests from us is altogether different, and it gives living in New York City an incomparable charge.
A couple of weeks ago, while waiting outside in the rain for my second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, I noticed that some people grew frustrated as the line and wait times lengthened, in spite of how hard the vaccination team was working to process the crowd.
Just then, an elderly woman was carefully lifted by a family member out of a car and helped to her walker. It was clear that her eyesight was poor, and she was unsteady on her feet. And just like that, the line parted, and even the crankiest individuals in line were enthusiastically waving the elderly woman and her family member to the front of the line saying, “Ma’am, please, you go first.” In that moment, feeling moved by the way this group of people put aside their frustration to care for someone they had never met, I thought: May kindness to strangers forever be New York City’s legacy.
My name was called, and as I followed the nurse inside, she told a colleague that she was finishing up her shift. When I asked how long she had been working, she replied, “14 hours. We’re vaccinating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week here.” As I expressed my gratitude, she stopped to confide, “I was so sick with Covid this spring. I was lucky enough to survive. But now we all need to do our part to get the vaccine and beat this thing once and for all.” May kindness to strangers forever be New York City’s legacy.
The healthcare worker filling out my vaccination card and preparing my second dose expressed a similar sentiment: “We’re all on a mission here to vaccinate every New Yorker and take back our city. We’ve got to do this together.” May kindness to strangers forever be New York City’s legacy.
I have always loved a good comeback story. And I believe that New York City, which is going through one of the tougher times in its history, will be one of the best comeback stories of the Covid-19 pandemic. Living through this pandemic is an experience that will forever change the way we live, the way we work, and the way we educate young people for meaningful, prosperous, and fulfilling lives in a rapidly changing world. And though much about New York City can, should, and will change, there is, as many have pointed out, a special energy in this city where so many people live, work, and strive together in close proximity. And that will never die. Because it is the heart and soul of New York City. And it will come back, with a force as indefatigable as loving kindness to strangers.
The day I received my second vaccination, a Hewitt alumna and trustee sent me this passage from Albert Camus:
In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that in the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger - something better, pushing right back.
No matter how hard the world pushes against us, let us remember that there is something in us, something stronger, something better, pushing right back. Hewitt’s culture of kindness is evident every day, in moments both big and small. I see it when upper school students celebrate a classmate’s Locks of Love donation to honor a cancer-free family member, when a music teacher stays late to fix a broken violin string for a student learning entirely online, when sixth grade students organize supportive banners for a classmate whose dog died, or when our Parents’ Association Kindness Committee supports a member of the community. At Hewitt, we believe that kindness is not a “soft skill”; it is a hard skill, core to our mission. For if Hewitt students are to become ethical leaders who forge an equitable, sustainable, and joyous future, they must be animated by kindness and value the humanity and dignity of every human being.
May kindness forever be New York City’s legacy. And on our 100th birthday, may kindness forever be Hewitt’s legacy.