David's Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however, the material is ©2019 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters, please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
I recently sprained my hand and arm by doing too much typing for too long a time, an occupational hazard faced by others who type a lot and, I’m told, by concert pianists, which puts me in good company! Aside from ice packs (ugh!) and massaging (yay!), the main therapy is to stop typing, which is challenging for a writer who thinks through his fingers.
Consequently, I’ve had an enforced vacation while my hand and arm heal, during which I decided to catch up on my reading. I have a number of books on my desk (and under it, on the floor) that I’ve been intending to read, all good books on spirituality, the state of the world, new economic theories, the politics of climate change, holistic business organizations, the intelligence of trees, and other interesting topics. What I ended up reading, though, were murder mysteries. Well, I said it was a vacation!
Specifically, I was introduced by my good friends and Lorian colleagues, Jeremy Berg and Freya Secrest, to Canadian writer, Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Gamache series. There are fifteen books in this series, so she and her character have obviously been successful and popular.
It’s easy to see why. Penny's prose is brilliant, her stories are well-crafted, her characters are compelling, and she has a wit that often had me laughing out loud at a particular passage. Her murders regularly produce a number of possible suspects, and the mystery of who the murderer is lasts until nearly the last page. For someone like myself who likes classical murder mysteries that focus on character and deduction rather than non-stop action and gore, her stories are a treat. They are genuine page-turners, not only because she is so skillful at building up the suspense but because her characters are so well-drawn that you can’t wait to see what one of them is going to say or do next.
At the heart of these stories is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of the elite homicide department of the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force. He is what makes these stories remarkable and different from any other murder mysteries I’ve read. He is a brilliant detective, yes, but what makes him stand out is that his biggest tool in solving crimes is his kindness.
Penny is brilliant at delineating this character, bringing the reader along to not only appreciate Gamache’s kindness but to feel it as a palpable presence throughout the books. He is respectful and kind to everyone, his fellow police officers, the suspects, even those whom he must arrest for the most horrific of crimes. His kindness defuses defenses, overcomes resistances, opens hearts and draws out secrets. He is compelling not because he is strong or smart or courageous, though he is all these things; his strength comes from the fact that people feel acceptance and respect in his presence. They feel his kindness.
Reading these books, I came away feeling I’d spent time with an embodiment of what kindness is about and the power it can have in the world. This is why I abandoned my intended reading list and ended up devouring one after another of Penny’s stories (I’m a third of the way through the series, which is best read in chronological order). I found that in the midst of the day’s news, with all the conflict, polarization, and division rampant in today’s world, I was hungry for anything that brought the spirit of kindness into my life.
Not that the Inspector Gamache books are the only source of this spirit. Far from it. Examples of the power of kindness are all around us if we choose to look. We find trolls on the Internet, but we find heroes and heroines of kindness as well. Digital newsletters like Good News and Optimist Daily serve a welcome daily diet of stories of kindness in action. And in our own neighborhoods and towns, we can find people expressing kindness, especially if we do so as well.
My father’s favorite motto was “Reverence for all life,” inspired by the writings and example of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. It was something he practiced, and I believe it’s a vitally needed idea. At the same time, I believe the times call for Kindness to all life. We can revere, but now is a time to act. Kindness is reverence in action, and kind actions to each other, to the nature around us, to the world in which we live are what we need if we hope to save our world.
There is a mystery to kindness in its ability to bring forth the best that is within us, to transform situations, and to multiply its effects far beyond the original act. It is one of those actions that always makes a difference, a difference that can spread in ways we can’t foresee, bringing changes we did not expect.
What was wonderful was to find this mystery of kindness in the pages of a mystery of murder where I had not expected to find it. Inspiration in unlikely places, which, when I think about it, is a lot like life itself if we pay attention.
And with this thought, I will go back to letting my hand and arm heal themselves.