This week I have been wondering if love and kindness are one and the same, and it is merely a semantic error that we separate them out in English English. In many languages and cultures, the word that translates to the concept of love is far more encompassing that the English English word love.

This word has three main ‘meanings’ – platonic (non-sexual) love for your children and extended family members, (sexual) love for you spouse/partner and then a sort of generic ‘like a lot’ in relation to activities, things, places etc. And yet, strong friendships have a solid foundation of love, which is neither based on family ties, nor on sexual attraction.

A number of years ago, I was privileged to go to the Chatham Islands and in my very basic Te Reo Maori had a conversation with one of the school principals about how aroha (roughly translates as love) needs to underpin quality, effective education. This is not a conversation that could be had in English English. And yet, do we not want out schools to be filled with kindness, compassion and nurturing? A place where each child’s spirit is gently held and connected with those of the elders and the educators?

I love my whanau (roughly translates as family) very deeply, in ways that go beyond the English English version of love. My whanau are not related to me and yet I am connected with them, with threads of kindness, value, respect, compassion, safety, security, and aroha.

“Aroha is often translated as “Love”, but the full meaning of the word encompasses all of the five senses, the ego and also intellect, and cannot be contained in just one word. In Maori, aroha encompasses the breath of life and the creative force of the spirit, and it assumes that the universe is abundant and that there are more opportunities than people. It seeks and draws out the best in people, it rejects greed, aggression and ignorance and instead encourages actions that are generous.” (https://www.neonataltrust.org.nz/2013/11/01/true-meaning-aroha)

I feel that is is this, aroha, that has nurtured and sustained me since my wife died. People who have been generous in their interactions with me, sought to help me reconnect to my creativity and the breath of life within me that was lying quietly, not sure how to move once again.

At times it is like being a teenager, exploring what the world truly means, as I navigate for and by myself, without Jane to translate things that I find baffling. I am naturally shy and contained, but as the kindness in my life continues to build, I find myself less contained and less emotionally isolated. Admittedly, it takes the kindness of others to get me to leave the house, with even Chico playing his part, gently batting me with his paw if I haven’t taken him for a walk by 5pm.

I am slowly coming alive again, pretty much all through the kindness of others. I cannot see this kindness as anything other than love, because without love, the same actions would not be kind, but instead be judgemental or coercive. I think, perhaps that culturally, some of us are afraid of love, afraid of valuing more than the body; the spirit and the breath of life. The majority culture in which I live, values materialistic things, things you can touch and see. You cannot see the spirit, but you can certainly touch the spirits of yourself and others, just not physically.

When a friend, family member, colleague or whanau member reaches out and holds my wairua (spirit) gently or safely, I feel alive. I feel valid and valued. Too often we are afraid to reach out in this way, but it gives me great comfort to help others in ways that show value and ensure they feel heard, valid and cared about. But sometimes, great kindness sparks tears in my heart. A wave of sadness washes through me, taking away some of the grief and loss that have built up again. As the wave subsides, so too do the grief and loss.

In your interactions with others this week, take a moment to think about how you behave. Do your words and actions safely hold others or not? Do you bring kindness or could you? I am certainly kinder than I used to be, and some of that immense love that Jane had for so many people seems to have seeped into my psyche, and I am more loving to more people, gentler and kinder.