Cancer, for me, is pretty much an invisible disease. I still have my hair and struggle, not to gain weight, but to lose it. Yes, I have some pain, hobble around a bit, and am easily fatigued, but otherwise, God be praised, I can still be up on my roof cleaning it like any other self-respecting person on a beautiful spring Saturday afternoon.
But inside my body, all sorts of havoc is taking place. I am literally drowning in rogue cells. There is not a waking moment that I’m not aware of this. This reality makes me and every other person battling cancer different.
It’s as if there is an invisible wall between you and I. The world you live in used to be my world. I remember it well and can still see it, but I can no longer live in it with you. I think this is what makes cancer such a horribly lonely disease. We’re still here, but in many ways, we’re not.
But when someone crosses over the wall, what kindness! When someone joins me in my new and terrifying world, just to sit with me and talk with me and be with me a while, it’s a stunning gift. You just have no idea how much this means.
“Kindness is your soul’s way of finding a place inside
the hurt and need of other people’s hearts.”
It was a cold night in Georgia in the midst of an ice storm several years ago. The power was off and my family was huddled together in the family room trying to stay warm around our fireplace. Around midnight, there was a surprising knock at the door.
I opened it to discover our new friends, Steve and Joanne Floyd, holding a kerosene heater and a picnic basket full of food with a bottle of wine protruding from it. They “dropped by” because they thought we might need some provisions to weather the storm.
Amazed, I asked Steve how they had managed to travel to my house with the roads covered with ice. “It was no big deal,” he said in his soft voice, coupled with a shy smile. With this act of kindness began a relationship with the Floyds where our family was loved and cared for in surprising and kind ways. And to Steve and Joanne, it was always “no big deal.”
When you become a kind person, I think it’s evidence that you “get it.” Everything we hold dear in this world is passing away. We, too, are here but for a moment, and then vanish away. Before this happens, the kind person understands it’s imperative that we find a place inside each other’s hearts.
It may be as simple as paying for the meal for the car behind you in the drive through or as elaborate as the show I saw recently where a much-deserving waitress was given a $1,000 tip, a trip anywhere in the world she wanted to go, a new job and a new car. All in one day by the “patrons” she was serving. This made me cry. Hard. Whether large or small, acts of kindness declares we are all in this together and our hearts have been opened to the sorrow, pain, and needs of others.
“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.”
~ Naomi Shihab Nye
I was with a kind friend this week who showered me with glorious gifts in the course of an hour. He poured me a glass of Jack Daniels, listened to me intently, spoke with warmth and compassion to my heart, told me stories that made me belly laugh so hard I needed my drink refilled (no, the stories can’t be repeated), and then sat with me while I cried and cried because of how loved I felt in his presence. Oh, yeah. Then he hugged me. Hard – with the customary 3 slaps on the back that made it a man hug.
Do you see how simple, yet how important this is? He intentionally crossed over the wall and joined me in my world for a little while. And like my friend, Steve, it was no big deal.
Except, of course, it was.
All of us are struggling. Every person is fighting a battle. We all have our hidden walls behind which we hide our private loneliness. It takes a warm heart and the willingness to risk getting outside of ourselves to give something good to someone who may even seem like they have it all together. But, of course, none of us do.
I have another client and friend who, if I’m at his home in the late afternoon (and I try to be), always comes to where I am and says, “It’s five o’clock, Ed.” That’s all he says. It’s his code sentence for it’s time to stop working and drink a beer together. As much as I like beer, I enjoy being with him even more. Both are a good gift from a kind heart that understands how much we need each other in this world.
Oh, there’s one more thing. Don’t forget mischief!
When you combine kindness and mischief, life really gets fun – for yourself and the people around you! So be creative, mischievous even, and in the time you have left on this earth, find a place inside of other people’s hearts through your kindness. Why?
Because my friend, Steve, was wrong.
It’s a really big deal.
Oh, I have a dear friend who, when I say, “How kind of you!” replies, “It’s not kindness, Ed. It’s love.”
P.S. For those of you who wrote asking to see “proof” that I actually finished cleaning my roof (plus cleaned the skylight, trimmed all the low hanging branches off the trees, drug them out to the road for pickup, and then finished off the day by walking 3 miles with my wife), I offer you the following from yesterday:
Careful about challenging me these days. I’ll run you into the ground!