One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Newburyport 18 months ago was how kind everyone was. This extended from my parishioners, to our Realtor, and people in our new neighborhood. Doctors welcomed us into their care, and store owners quickly knew our names.
The most memorable example had to do with city councilman and local business owner Bruce Vogel. I first met Bruce when my husband and I were purchasing a piece of furniture from his girlfriend’s store.
Bruce lounged nearby, in his customary causal and friendly way, as my husband and I debated buying the furniture. We were in a quandary about how to get the piece from downtown to our home in Byfield. Bruce said kindly, and without solicitation, “I’ll bring it to your home.”
After assuring us that he was serious, we agreed to let him help. He refused payment for his time and effort, saying it was the neighborly thing to do.
Since then, Bruce greets us happily whenever we see each other, whether at one of his stores or walking through the city.
We soon realized that although Bruce may have gone above and beyond, there is an ethos of kindliness in this area shared by most people. There is even a Nice People of Newburyport Facebook page.
When family and friends come to visit from out of town, they remark on this. “Is this place for real?” one friend asked me. “It’s like a fairy book,” another said.
I’ve learned that many people move to Newburyport for the remarkable peace found here, and some do not want anything to disturb that peace. I fear that we risk becoming isolated or cut off from the rest of the world if we keep ourselves too disconnected from the harder, less pretty parts of life.
The Buddha’s parents wanted to shield him from the pain and suffering in the world. When he realized this as a young man, he asserted the need to experience the wholeness of reality. The crib story is that he sought out the suffering and pain of others, which was ultimately essential on his path to enlightenment.
The same is true for all of us. When we seek to avoid pain at all costs, it doesn’t make us stronger. It can actually make us more fragile as we live in fear of what is around the corner. This applies to the pain that is within our city, and beyond.
If we take the bedrock of kindness and beauty of our community, and at the same time connect with the painful and more difficult realities of life, we will become more whole. Proximity and relationship with the hard things nurtures an openhearted, compassionate and empowered lifestyle.
We can be grateful for the oasis that our city is to so many people. Yet, in this time of political division and unrest in our country, we can do more than that.
We can use the foundations of respect and generosity in this city to be agents of kindness in the larger world. This does not disregard the many things that are already being done by many of our residents.
It simply means that there is an aridness of love and tolerance in our country right now, and we can do more. Even in our conversations. We have a lot to offer when we connect our city’s beauty and peace with the world’s pain.
I encourage all of us to consider ways we can interrupt the forces of fear and division, and promote tolerance and kindness. I’m open to hearing your ideas.
The Rev. Rebecca Bryan is minister of the First Religious Society, Unitarian Universalist Church in Newburyport.