This is the mesmerizing photograph of Charles Baudelaire:
You just want to invite him over for coffee and snacks and offer him a snuggie, right? Nope. He is interesting precisely because he looks so sullen and intense, the most emo of French poets. Now the smoking of hashish may have had something to do with afore-mentioned emotional withdrawal, but overall he grew up as a very pensive and brooding artist. He also adopted incredible talent with meter, a heart that turns everything inside and out in search of truth, and a mind stuffed with strange poetry. One of his poems “Correspondences,” gives the audience a nice sampling of his riveting work. There is also surprising kindness and daring unkindness within the verses, teaching me more of what it means to actually be kind or unkind.
The pillars of Nature’s temple are alive
and sometimes yield perplexing messages;
forests of symbols between us and the shrine
remark our passage with accustomed eyes.
Like long-held echoes, blending somewhere else
into one deep and shadowy unison
as limitless as darkness and as day,
the sounds, the scents, the colors correspond.
There are odors succulent as young flesh,
sweet as flutes, and green as any grass,
while others—rich, corrupt and masterful—
possess the power of such infinite things
as incense, amber, Benjamin and musk,
to praise the senses’ raptures and the mind’s.
There’s a mysterious, confusing, rich and intoxicating kindness of senses brought to you by Nature. Grass, babies, wind on the ocean, etc. Limits don’t exist for this euphoria. It is overpowering and can sometimes be corrupt and domineering. An example of this would be fragrances so inhibiting that they make human nature seem evil—which it is, per Baudelaire, many other people, and myself. Lusty thoughts can creep into a head when incense is in the room. Musk might be spritzed over an extra-marital affair. Still, there are the innocent senses like powdered children and lilac. These adequately symbolize kindness. Used correctly, kindness allows the recipient and the giver a power of goodness. For me this kindness is best understood by looking at what Jesus Christ opened up on Calvary, despite trillions of other acts and stories. I wasn’t even formed yet, but thought of and sacrificed for by God. Here lies my blessed euphoria.
Unkindness would be to enter into the apathy of rejecting Nature’s potent symbolism. The poem shows this invisibly, alluding to the fact that life without knowledge of sensory experience to this degree is incredibly unkind. Wouldn’t you want your enemy to still know what a flower smells like? And to also know that the smell of smoke usually means danger?
So when Paul says “love is kind,” does he think we only need to smile and hold doors open for the people we don’t ever want to spend time with? Is he implying that we become weak, “nice” people who can’t force down the walls between human souls and connection? I doubt it. As riled up as the apostle was, I think he means kind love to be a hard-won, unconditional review of what is best for others. He might mean get your head out of your own butt, and try to imagine life for the conservative/liberal/libertarian/unaffiliated person even when they piss you off tremendously. Imagine it, and then let go of concern for yourself if it means that they will benefit.
Exceptions: kindness comes in many flavors, and that includes the bitter. It might be kind for you to move out of your abusive lover’s house and get a restraining order. It’s kind to jail a teenager who murdered their family in cold blood. Standing up to your boss or a friend acting like a jerk in love makes sense and is kindness. It will help them in the long run.
Kindness comes from a reservoir of grace, self-confidence and forgiveness and takes a lifetime of pruning. But it always has the best interest of the other, and always ends up being in the best interest of the one who practices it. Win-win.