One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind. – Malayan proverb
The call had come late in the afternoon, the previous day, and we’d been waiting in the hospital ever since. Six hours. Ten hours. The hands-on the clock ticked away loudly. It was as if someone had wired the damn thing for sound and hidden speakers were amplifying every tick, tick, tick. The hands pointed and laughed. Mocking me with their obnoxiously large tentacles.
We were waiting for a kidney to be flown across the province, but mechanical issues had delayed the flight. They were working on it, but once a donated organ is out of the body, viability starts to degrade. If it isn’t connected to a new blood source, a living person, then a life-saving opportunity is lost.
There was nothing we could do to speed things up so we waited, hoped, prayed. I watched some tv but that damn clock wouldn’t shut up. It was almost comical. I was half expecting it to wink at me, and break out into a musical number. The lights would dim, and an orchestra would set up in the closet. The lampshade would dance with the bedside table. The cups would serenade the curtains. Cartoon creatures would bumble into the room, slip on a banana peel, and smack each other over the head with toilet paper.
Wait, did I get sucked into a Loony Tunes Cartoon?
Did I just date myself?
I know what your thinking but, no. They hadn’t given me anything to help me “relax.” I was in complete control of my faculties. My faculties just happen to choreograph elaborate dance numbers with inanimate objects. Anthropomorphizing them and creating fantastical characters that only I can see or appreciate. Ah, it’s a tragic love affair of delirious proportions but alas, it is what it is.
What does that mean?
The music died away, the curtain fell, and all the objects returned to their natural state. I was alone. The room was quiet, except for the droning clock that made my teeth itch. Time was running out for me, and the kidney. I sat there, on the bed, restless but there wasn’t anything I could do about any of it. I was helpless but not yet hopeless. Though, the latter was dwindling.
There was a gentle knock on the door and a cleaning lady smiled sweetly. I think they are the most undervalued and under-appreciated employees in any hospital. Correction, they’re the most undervalued people in every setting. They do the dirty work no one wants to do, but it’s a job that’s desperately needed. Imagine a hospital without cleaning staff. Blood. Germs. Bodily fluids. Need I say more? Ew, no, please don’t!
These unsung heroes of the industrial world move through the hospital virtually unseen. They do their jobs diligently but silently. For one to stop and chat was rare. Unfortunately rare, but maybe seen and not heard is in the job description? Can we change that because this woman changed my life with what she did next?
She walked over to my bed and, in a quiet voice, said, “I’m supposed to tell you that it will be okay.”
Um, excuse me?
Her eyes looked up, her fingers deftly retrieved a rosary from her pocket, and she smiled. “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to work out. Can I say a prayer for you?”
I nodded and shrugged. Sure why not? As a general rule, I never say no to a prayer or a blessing given in a moment of genuine kindness. We might not share the same faith, and I might not believe in your deity, but it can’t hurt. Besides, an act of kindness is a kind act. I never want to turn my back on that kind of gift.
The woman bowed her head, her fingers danced over the beads, and her lips moved as she silently said her prayer. She nodded once, opened her eyes, and smiled again. She placed a prayer card on my bedside table. “I want you to have this, for good luck. You don’t have to believe in it for it to work.” She walked back to her cart but turned around, she smiled and said, “It will be okay.”
With a wave, she was gone, and I never saw her again.
About an hour later, my transplant team came running in the room and told us it was time to go. I kissed my family good-bye, and I was wheeled out of the room. The surgery was long but it was a success. The kidney worked, and I was given ten years that I would not have had if the donor family hadn’t signed the paperwork.
That day I experienced two acts of kindness, and I learned a valuable lesson. Kindness comes in many sizes, but that doesn’t diminish the size of the kindness. Did that make sense? Did I get it off a greeting card? Am I being overly influenced by a loony cartoon and an anthropomorphized dance number?
Two out of three are quite possible, but I’ll let you decide which one didn’t make the cut.
Too often, I get pulled down into a dark place where it seems that kindness is a dying art. It’s the last resort if it’s resorted to at all. We’ve bought the lie that kindness is hard, and the cost is too high. There are other alternatives that are cheaper and easier. We’re a lazy species so guess which one we choose more often than not?
I know we’re all stressed. There’s so much going on in the world and in our tiny corners of it. I don’t feel like being kind, tolerant, or accepting of differing views. I’m a little snappier than I usually am and, it seems that most people are feeling the same way.
Tired. That’s the word for it! We’re tired and that means, at least for me, that the fuse runs a little shorter than normal. Our saint-like patience morphs into a tiny devil on a short leash. That leash is frayed and it was sewn together with ten year Cheetos that someone found tucked in the sofa cushions. I don’t know if it will hold for much longer. Did anyone hear a rip?
Kindness? It feels like a weighted blanket which, in theory, should feel like a hug but instead, it feels like a straight jacket. I’m not saying, I don’t belong in a straight jacket. I’m saying, it’s just not as comfortable as a hug. But I can’t hug you right now. Virus and a straight jacket. You know how it is.
Oh, and how can I treat you with an altruistic spirit when my spirit has its arms tied down? I can’t. I just…It’s so hard.
The struggle is real! Which is why acts of kindness seem to be dwindling. It’s being replaced with childlike petulance. Foot stamping the ground. Fist clenched at the side. Eyes squinting, and huffing out a classic, “I don’t wanna.”
Why should I? Why should I be kind to you, if you aren’t going to be kind to me? If you aren’t going to respect my choices, beliefs, or ideas then, screw you. You want me to respect you? It’s a two-way street, buddy. I treat you the same way you treat me. Boom. Done. Bye!
Except, that lady in the hospital got nothing out of her act of kindness. I don’t know if I thanked her or not. I’m not even sure I smiled back. I was shocked, kinda numb, and I kept looking at the cups to see if they’d start singing again. She was kind without expectation, and she didn’t stick around for a tip.
She was kind, to be kind. That was it.
It was such a small thing to do, and it cost her nothing but three minutes of her time. What’re three minutes in the course of a lifetime? What about thirty seconds? What’s a smile cost? What about holding a door open? Wearing a mask? Respecting others who choose not to, or can’t for medical reasons, wear a mask?
Or, keeping the judgment inside my head instead of letting it come out of my mouth? Wiping the look off my face would be a good start. Minding my own? Yeah, I could do that too.
It doesn’t cost me anything to be kind, and that includes energy. Energy I don’t have because, I said it before, I’m tired. I feel like I’m waiting for a bomb to go off. A preverbal explosion that will level my life and leave me in ruins. Too dramatic? Sure, but this constant state of tension is wearing me thin, and I’m feeling the fatigue.
Still, I have to be kind?
Yeah, because kindness doesn’t have to be a sweeping gesture. The kidney I received was one of those kindnesses. It was huge! It was lifesaving. It showed an immense amount of compassion, empathy, and selfless courage to think of strangers in a time of incredible grief. I can’t even begin to imagine what that moment was like for them, and I can’t even begin to thank them for it either.
But to this day, twenty-plus years later, I still remember the cleaning lady that knocked on my hospital room door. I still have the prayer card she gave me, and I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe in saints or rosaries. As a religious object, it holds no emotional value to me. But, what she did for me that day was so special that I treasure that card, that memory, as much as I value the life-saving organ transplant.
The value of kindness lays in the heart, and it’s not something that can be quantified by size or measure. It’s given freely and without expectation. It’s done, in its purest form, simply because it can be done and not doing it, doesn’t cross our minds. It’s less of a reaction, more of an action. It’s instinct. It’s a calling. It’s a purpose-filled moment that leaves both hearts satiated.
I know we’re tired right now, and the world seems to have lost its collective mind. Kindness has taken a back seat to rightness. We’re up to our necks in the all-mighty “IT”, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to give in, any time soon. It’s no wonder we’re going at each other instead of helping each other.
But it can be different!
Kindness doesn’t have to be big. You don’t need to donate an organ. Though, if you want to donate, that’s amazing. Oh, and blood banks are always looking for donors too. Call your local Red Cross or blood donation service in your region, and ask how you can help. If you’re so inclined and/or able too.
Okay, the PSA is over.
Donating blood or organs? That’s an amazing kindness and lives will be saved! But sometimes a small act can save a life too. I was sitting on that bed, in the hospital, climbing out of my skin, and a few words helped me settle down. It gave me comfort. It helped me hold onto hope. That day, she saved my sanity. My donor, and his family, saved my life.
Two acts of kindness, seemingly miles apart, had such a drastic impact on my life.
What would happen if I focused more of my energy on kindness instead of rightness? Does that change the world? Yeah, probably not. Would it change my very small corner of it? I think it could because one woman’s kindness changed my life in three minutes flat.
If, by some miracle, you’ree that cleaning lady from BC’s Children’s Hospital? I know the odds of you reading this are slim to none but, thank you. What you did? It meant everything to me.
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