Friday, April 5, 2024

A Full-Circle Moment

My grandma always taught me to treat absolutely everyone with respect because you never know what someone else might be going through. When I was 11, my grandparents actually brought me to Hawaii, and when everyone else fell asleep, my grandma decided to take me out so we could see the ladies of the night. I had no idea what these women actually did until my grandma told me. "See her clothes," she said, "she has a good sense of fashion." Then, my grandmother smiled kindly at each woman as they passed and always offered an uplifting word. She gave several of them money, but I honestly think her kindness meant far more than anything else. Some of those women even seemed surprised. Anyway, we didn't return to our hotel room until my grandma and I had counted 100 women that night. Later, the whole thing seemed hilarious as an adult, but I didn't realize until now that my grandma had actually been teaching me an unforgettable lesson.


It's been over 30 years since this happened. My grandmother passed away over a decade ago, but I still find so much comfort in these memories. Now, when I'm having tough days fighting cancer, I read inspirational cards she placed in her "happiness file." I pulled one out a couple of years ago and wondered how my grandmother must've felt when she wrote it. "Treat everyone with kindness," the card read, "it really does come back around." 

Whenever I walk toward my main oncologist's clinic, I pass a man who helps with insurance claims. He doesn't appear to have a regular office and instead is tucked away in a dark corner. He faces patients who pass by, but his desk is a bit too far away for us to really say hello. I've seen people awkwardly skirt past, and the man also never looks up. Remembering my grandmother's words, a couple of years ago I decided to walk all the way over to this man's desk to try brightening his afternoon. "Have a wonderful day," I beamed. The poor man appeared visibly shaken, mumbling something as he stared at his computer and went back to work. Instead of quitting there, I vowed to do this every time I walked past—both before and after my visit. After months, he began waving back, always seeming surprised no matter how many times I've done this. I never missed a time, always remembering my grandmother's words: Treat Everyone with Kindness.

This week, though, something changed. I grew so sad, unable to remain happy despite my circumstances. I spent most of the week at the cancer center, growing more and more exhausted. It's just that this whole journey can sometimes feel endless. Anyway, after I left the clinic, preparing to pass the man in the corner, I decided not to say hello. What was the point in always saying hi anyway? He probably didn't even like it. I couldn't stomach this journey anymore. What was the point of anything?

But just as I was about to round the corner without acknowledging him, the man yelled out, "You didn't say hello! So... Hello!" Then he smiled brightly, waving to me with so much animation that a humongous laugh built up inside of me, and I couldn't hold it in anymore. We just smiled at each other so widely. And I'm not quite sure why, but his kindness made my eyes well with tears. That man changed the climate of my entire day, and suddenly my journey felt surmountable again.

It's so funny thinking about my grandma and the lessons she imparted even on the Waikiki strip. Maybe she was right after all.

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