Friday, December 1, 2023

The Ability to be Kind

 Long before her death, my grandma labeled a yellow recipe box her “Happiness File” and filled it with notes to cheer her up.

Today, after pulling a card, her words reminded me of something from my youth. I stared at the drooping cursive: “As we get older, what's important seems to change." 

I shook my head from the irony. It’s odd how as I fight cancer, these words have become a lifeline from Heaven.


The elderly man called me his “angel” because I'd been kind to him. But who wouldn't be kind? A smile is the simplest, easiest thing to give. Yet, he treated it like keys to a mansion. 

Despite that, looking at him hurt me because I saw all the potential: incredible jobs he could've had, children who would've loved him, and even the person he might've married. If he'd just gotten his life together...

"What did you want out of life?" I asked.

He thought for a while before saying, "We might not see God's hand in our lives, but trust me, He's there." Then, he sighed. "People's priorities aren't always the same, Elisa.”

I blinked. He hadn't answered my question. Not at all. I didn't say much after that, so he finally did. 

He talked about how he'd married the woman of his dreams. They were overjoyed when she got pregnant. Then, although his baby blue eyes faced me, they looked at something far into the past. He took a deep breath, obviously wrestling with the memory. 

Did his wife have an affair. Maybe she wasn't the person she claimed to be? Was the baby someone else's? His shaky voice brought me back to the moment. His wife—everything he'd wanted in life—had died in a car accident along with the baby she'd been carrying. His baby. His world. “And when she died, my will to live died too."

"I…" I couldn’t find words to convey how sorry I felt. “I am so sorry,” I finally said. Sadness emanated from him, and my throat tightened. “How long ago did that happen?"

"It's been decades." 

He talked a bit more about how they’d fallen in love and seemed to brighten a bit. After that, he called me his angel.

I never forgot his story no matter how many things life threw at me. After I grew up, I realized how completely idiotic—and judgmental—I'd been to feel bad for that man over all the potential "I" felt had been lost. How dare I judge his actions, thinking about the jobs, children, and wife he could've had. He'd tried for all that and could barely find the strength to keep going afterward. Yet, despite hardships, depression, and struggles, he still treated everyone with kindness.

Now, as I let go of so much because of cancer (numerous friends have died, I had to quit my job, my health is waning, and I can't walk as well as I used to), I remember this man and the lesson he taught me. When I feel my resources depleting the most, I want to be heroic like him. 

I'll call people angels and be as positive as I can. I'll try to give them hope when I don't feel it myself. I'll try to stay strong even if strength is much different than I ever thought. It's often in a gentle action, a good word, a smile… He called me his angel, but he was wrong. He'd been the angel to me. And he kept going despite tremendous adversity. 

Rereading my grandma's words today, I realized she's right. Sometimes, as we get older, what seems important does change. And that's all right. Even though I'm losing so many things, I still have what matters most: the ability to be kind and the drive to keep going until it's my time.

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