Right before school let out in May, a friend suggested that we read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. My friend said it was a great read-aloud book for the family, especially for my age sons (11 and 9). While on our annual extended-family retreat in Southern Colorado, I read the book to Jim and the boys nightly before bed and first thing in the morning. It was an amazing read and thoroughly enjoyable for everyone. If you haven’t read it, do. If you have read it, you know what I am talking about.
The story is about and written from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy name August (Auggie) Pullman. I’m not spoiling anything here (yet). The book jacket reads “Auggie was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid, then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can be convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?”
I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and especially Auggie Pullman for at least 2 weeks after finishing the book. Even over the 5 days we read the book, we went to sleep with Auggie, and we woke up with him, reading an hour each morning before we even got out of bed. With my eldest son starting middle school this year and being a small fish in a big sea, there were many parts of the book that struck home for me (social clicks, mean kids, parental worry). Those parts I sobbed through.
But it was the message of the book that I can’t let go. Here’s where the spoiling comes in (still read the book, it’s so worth it). The moral of the story is about kindness. At the end of the book, the headmaster gives his middle school address and offers a quote of advice from J.M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird: “… always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” He goes on to tell the students “Kinder than is necessary. Because it is not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed. Why I love that line, that concept, is that it reminds me that we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness. … If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary—the world really would be a better place.”
Ah, this is where our faith comes into the picture. Several of our principles are wrapped up into this concept of being kinder than is necessary—to ourselves, to our family, to each other, to strangers, to the earth. That is much of what our covenant asks of us. We promise to walk together, to hear one another, to support one another, to be in relationship with one another.
Being kinder than is necessary asks more of us. It is not passive. It requires intention and action. Sometimes, it requires courage. Auggie Pullman brought out the best in people, asking them to be more. May we each find ways to honor that strength and character in Auggie. May we strive to be kinder than is necessary in all that we do. May it be so.