Kindness and the Literary Essay


A few weeks ago I took a workshop on the literary essay, led by Perrin Kerns (image below). I didn't know what a literary essay was when I signed up for the workshop. It was an offering through the Duke U Center for Documentary Studies program. I needed a few more credits towards my certificate, so I figured why not?

I learned that a literary essay is a nonfiction piece of writing, but written with a literary flair rather than a just-the-facts kind of approach. There are many approaches including using an existing form (lists, map directions, dictionary entries, and so on), run-on sentences, and more. One of the techniques for writing is for the writer to respond to prompts. One of the prompts caused me to recall the following true event. I'll show other techniques in subsequent blog posts.


The Kindness of Strangers in Peru


On a trek in Peru, the weather turned rather rainy. My 7 companions and our 2 guides were literally dripping with water. Even the rain ponchos weren’t helping any more. We had been hiking for many miles. We were hungry. We wanted lunch and a rest, but the rain was unrelenting. We came upon a mud house. Our guide knocked on the door and asked if the couple who lived there would allow us brief shelter to warm up and eat lunch. They welcomed us in.


As I walked through the door, I was thinking that if a band of wet people knocked on my door in California and asked to come in that I would likely call the police.


I enter and see the house is one room. There are guinea pigs running all over the floor. One-by-one they will become dinner for this couple. They live simply. They seem happy.

We put our clothes close to the open fire to dry out. Our guides prepare lunch for us, and to share with the couple. We rest. We feel revived. We move on after thanking our guests.


Now, when I am in situations where I could act with kindness or not act with kindness, I think of this Peruvian couple. I think that if a band of wet people knock on my door in California and ask to come in, that I should not be so hasty to call the police. Perhaps I should listen. Perhaps I should consider kindness. Although a band of wet people are unlikely to knock on my doot, there are parallel situations for kindness to strangers in America. An offer of help. A kind word. A smile.


The Peruvian couple seemed happy with what they had—land to grow vegetables, a few animals, plenty of guinea pigs, and a dry home. So simple. Simplicity in life. Now I realize happiness doesn’t seem to require much except for us to appreciate what is around us. Appreciate the people, the land, the trees, and yes, even rain if that is what the day brings.

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