This time of year can be painful for so many because while everyone else seems to be enjoying the seasonal festivities, someone is spending a first Christmas alone. Someone else is spending it in the hospital with a bleak outlook. A whole city is in mourning on the anniversary of a terrible elementary school massacre. But do you know what the survivors of the Sandy Hook murders want? Not media attention but kindness, random acts of kindness. If their beloved children and teachers can no longer be with them, at least they – and others – can do good in their memory.
This week, when I became one of the stressed out loved ones of a person in distress, I was reminded just how important these acts of kindness are.
I awoke Tuesday morning to discover that my grandmother had a bout with congestive heart failure in the night, and rescue had broken down her front door and transported her to the hospital. This is the woman who beat a rare brain infection over twenty years ago and basically lived with few medical problems until her first experience with congestive heart failure four years ago. My elder son and I were with her the afternoon it happened, and I felt absolutely helpless. This week, she was alone, and I feel like I should have been there. I drove right by her neighborhood earlier in the day, foregoing a visit because I knew she would be taking her afternoon nap. I will always wonder if I could have helped her if I had just stopped by.
Our family is fortunate because we all live in the same vicinity, so we've taken turns helping. And this week, it's taken a village. Someone has had to stay with her almost constantly. Deprived of oxygen and sleep, her usually tack-sharp mind became delusional, and she blamed us for conspiring to put her in a home and take her money. It hurt us to see her in such a state, not to mention our own bruised feelings.
I met my cousin at her house on Tuesday, figuring that I could at least help get things ready for the repair man to fix her door. Being in her empty house, seeing it untidy, finding the phone where she dropped it – it was tough. But we had work to do. I had exactly $100 in my wallet, which happened to be what the repair man required for materials and labor to fix the door. I left the money for him rather than make someone else run to the bank. After all, I didn't think I would need it that day.
My cousin and I gathered a bag full of items Grandmama needed, and I took them to the hospital, which by the way, charges two dollars if you want to use their parking garages (which I did because it was pouring). After a quick visit, I got all the way up to the sixth floor of the parking garage before I realized I had no money. I went back in, figuring I could ask one of my aunts for a couple dollars. Then I got lost. And I was already ten minutes late to pick up my son from school.
I saw a man dressed in scrubs, and I asked him for directions to the ICU. He didn't work there and didn't know. "Well, I really just need an ATM," I said. He did know where to find one of those, so I hopped in the elevator with him, shaking my head at my ridiculous situation. When he realized why I needed money, he pulled out his wallet and gave me two dollars, insisting that I not waste my money on ATM fees.
Shocked, I stood in the elevator with his money and called, "God bless you!" as he walked out. I felt like saying something cheesy, like I would pay it forward, but the doors closed, and I was on my way to the parking garage again.
The beginning of what turned into a rough week for my family was touched by this simple act of kindness. It didn't seem like much – just two dollars. But it was something he absolutely did not have to do – but did gladly anyway. He gave me back some of the time I was already borrowing from the receptionist at my son's school, who sat with Peter while he waited for me to show up. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it and am determined to pay attention to those times when I, too, can make a small but significant difference in someone else's day.
In the season when my family celebrates the greatest gift ever sent to Earth, so many people have allowed themselves to be consumed with wanting – and then not even being satisfied when they get whatever it is they think they want. They don't see the people around them who would trade all the gifts in the world for one more Christmas with a deceased loved one – or a peaceful Christmas at home instead of in a hospital or nursing home.
Yet there are others who give, even when they don't have to. They may not even realize that their small gestures mean so much. To them, I say thank you. Thank you for keeping me from being totally jaded, for reminding me that there is, indeed, still good in this world.