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Visible Kindness

Service Providers
Trans Communities
michael munson
December 14, 2012

This 2006 essay was reprinted in 2012 after the Sandy Hooks school shooting. It weaves together earlier school shootings, a loved one’s suicide and the neighbors’ response, mustaches, and the Amish response to violence.

Today, on December 14, 2012, there has been a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which has resulted in several dozen dead and many others injured. So many of us have heavy hearts, full of grief, despair, and frustration with the violence that permeates so many corners of our world. I was reminded of this article written in 2006 and published in Queer Life News.

Originally published in Queer Life News
November 2006
by michael munson

Visible Kindness

Fourteen years ago, my cousin Erik committed suicide just days before Thanksgiving. My partner and I drove over a dozen hours through an early winter storm to reach Erik’s parents home in Iowa.

Throughout that profoundly painful weekend, I was awed by the scores of neighbors who quietly dropped by food, cards, and other practical comforts. They didn’t stay long, perhaps out of respect of our family’s grief, yet the message of their kindness was long-lasting and deeply felt.

I couldn’t understand at the time, and fourteen years later have yet to grok the full implication, of how the simple act of bringing food could be so utterly healing and loving.

A few weeks ago, Charles Carl Roberts IV entered an Amish school and shot ten girls before killing himself. The horror of the school shootings resonates throughout the country – anxious parents, scared kids, nervous teachers, concerned lawmakers, overworked clergy, and grief-stricken communities.

In comparison to other communities faced with similar violence, the Amish community responded differently to the horror at their childrens’ school. The Amish people brought food and forgiveness to Mr. Roberts’ family.

Like so many of us, with or without children, the violence that abounds throughout our country (and the world) can feel overwhelming. Most of us want the violence to stop, but often feel helpless about what we can do, or we believe that we couldn’t possibly make any difference about this devastating social problem.

The Amish live in ways that may be useful to take note of. Non-violent, community-centered, family-focused, forgiveness-granting communities may offer more than just hope for healing a wounded community; they may be the key to a radical change in how people can interact with each other peacefully and with integrity.

Amish men don’t grow mustaches because they were worn by European soldiers, symbolizing aggression, violence and war.

For the first time in over seven years, I shaved off my mustache in solidarity with the non-violent Amish people, whose lives were changed at the hands of someone who repeated the pattern of violence.

I needed to visibly display my own pacifism by creating a pattern of facial hair similar to that of people who have a deep commitment to peace. While few people have noticed the outward change, the staff at my regular coffee shop asked me why I shaved. My stated action was met with “cool” and “wow.”

While it is not “cool” that the cycle of violence is so strong in our world that people aggressively (and fatally) lash out — because they are so damaged or have no other skills that would help them heal from their own personal devastation — it is “cool” to be able to do something that reframes violence and focuses on peace.

As we pass through November, I am reminded again of my cousin’s suicide and the kindness of strangers. I am also reminded of all those who have died as a result of anti-trans violence, those honored and remembered on November 20 at the Remembering Our Dead rallies and marches around the world.

As my fingertips pass over my upper lip, the softness reminds me of my values and of the cosmic pain embodied in each of us. The dissonance of the smoothness with the harsh reality that any of us, at any moment, might not be able to contain our emotions, may have our hurts from 20 years ago force their way into our current lives, is almost too bitter to bear. Yet, I bite into the honeycrisp apple my parents brought from Door County, and I am reminded of the healing sweetness of love.


End note: I vowed in 2006 to keep my upper lip shaved until the world was a more peaceful place. Today has been another reminder that we — collectively — have a lot more work to do. I hope you will join with me in finding small or large ways to lessen the pain in the world.