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SPIRIT MATTERS: Choosing the better part in a world gone amok

It might or might not surprise you what quality my heart/mind has been preoccupied with this week.

As anxious thoughts scrambled through my head on Wednesday from a few social media “run-ins” earlier that day, the word “gentleness” quietly breezed through my head.

I quickly went to my laptop and googled the term, and decided that yes, that is what I would write about this week. That this is what *needs* to be written about this week.

But I knew at that moment I was in no condition to write about what gentleness truly means, and so I left my google search up on the screen, and went to bed, praying that the idea would ferment overnight and give way to my being able to write something genuine about it prior to deadline.


Seems like a relic from long ago now, doesn’t it.

So, what exactly does the word “gentleness” mean?

Merriam Webster’s definition is undeniably succinct.

“the quality or state of being gentle, especially mildness of manners or disposition.”

Fair enough.

You know when you have encountered a truly gentle person – you would think that being “gentle,” their character could be explained in simple terms.

But I don’t think so.

Truly gentle people are perhaps the most complex people out there, at least in terms of what has brought them to that overall state of kindness and mild manners.

Although some people are born with the propensity to be gentle, it often takes life experiences to draw it out, difficult life experiences to give it shining clarity.

My maternal grandmother was the gentlest person I have ever known. She just had that way about her. And I think it was probably genetic. Although I never met her parents in person, I have had a black-and-white photo of them next to my bedside for most of my adult life now.

The photo was taken when they were dating, or maybe “courting” is a better word – I don’t know. But it was in the early 1900s, and they are seated next to each other on the ground in a summer yard, both of them modestly dressed, both of them with a shy – endearing – look in their eyes.

Every time I look at that photo, I see “gentleness” captured on film.

Now, I do know my great-grandfather was considered a “gentle” man. My mother and her sisters have all spoken of him in that manner. They still remember him admiringly, and he has been gone for nearly 60 years.

My mom and her siblings never met my great-grandmother, however. She was a casualty of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic that swept the nation. My grandmother was two years old at the time of her mother’s death, and the death of her infant brother.

There is certainly a kind of mystique to my great grandmother Rose – even her name has a gentle quality to it, wouldn’t you say? It is almost as though her parents named her that not by accident, but by fate. That her name was truly an icon of who she was, of the substance of her soul…

So, it seems that my grandmother likely inherited the gentleness gene from both of her parents, and looking at old photos of her when she was younger, she appears to be just that.

But, just like the rest of us, she faced her own difficulties throughout her life…beginning with the death of her mother at such a young age, which left her with a deep, primal longing most of us will never know, for the rest of her life.

And with each of those difficulties, she could choose how she was going to deal with them.

Was she going to lean toward her given nature, and deal with whatever difficulty it was with her innate kind, calm personality…or would she let some circumstances that she did not invite into her life allow her to become bitter?

I’m sure Grandma struggled with that during her life – one time, when I was experiencing some of my own difficulties, she told me in her quiet, but oh-so-wise voice: “God never promised us a rose garden.” But by the end of her life, she was truly the living face of “gentleness” to me, and I can say confidently, to the rest of my extended family, as well.

I still pull up a photo of her on my laptop from time to time, from just a few years before she passed away at the ripe old age of 98. We were at a family dinner at Mona’s in Toluca and her face, with her fair skin and Irish rosy cheeks, with its lifetime of wrinkles, that were truly a testament to a life well lived, and her bluish-green eyes looked so delicately at the camera from behind her glasses….

Her eyes truly gave a glimpse of her gentle soul to all those who would look through them, to all those who knew them.

I would like to think I inherited, at least partially, Grandma’s gentle nature.

I do have a strong stubborn streak, as well, though, which challenges me to consciously choose to be gentle, when it would be just as easy to lash out in anger or pride….

And, so, this week, as that challenge to answer harshness with gentleness appeared in my daily life a few times, I had to stop and think…

How should I respond to this?

How would a gentle person respond to this?

How would Grandma respond to this?

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength. ~ Saint Francis de Sales

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality in The Times’ readership area. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at to share how you engage your spirit in your life and in your community.

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