In the ten weeks following the two very risky emergency surgeries my dad underwent in August we’ve spent our weekends visiting him in the hospital where he remains, due to myriad complications, and is working on his recovery.
He is being cared for in the hospice portion of the VA medical center, and while we are hopeful he can come home for his remaining time, the outlook is not certain.
Each Friday after work and school both myself and my brother and our families drive the two hours to the VA to sit with him over the weekend. Each Sunday we return home for another week. It’s difficult being so far away, difficult seeing dad in there week after week, difficult on mom working, being there, and trying to keep everything running in the meantime. Of course, I’m no stranger to caring for an ailing family member.
Our life with Miss Elliott taught us so much about the precious and fleeting nature of life and time. And even more about kindness, both what we’ve experienced from others and what we can provide.
There’s a pizza place around the corner from the VA. We’ve taken to eating there on Friday nights. We walk over, place an order for carry out, and bring our food back to dad’s room so we can all have dinner together.
This last Friday, as my sister in law and I were waiting in line, next up, deciding what to get for everyone a woman behind us asked if she could go ahead of us. We had decided, but were still holding our menus and she let us know she was just picking up an order. I said yes. It was no issue, really. A few more seconds waiting wouldn’t hurt.
After we placed our pizza order we took our to-go container for the salad bar over to begin constructing our salad. A man, who was apparently also behind us in line came up to us and said,
“So, I have to ask, did you feel obligated to say ‘yes’ to that woman’s question of letting her cut in front of you? I mean, that was a little rude.”
“Oh, I suppose. It wasn’t really a big deal though. I didn’t mind,” I told him.
“It’s like she was saying ‘my time is more important than your time,'” he continued.
“Maybe, but I’m really just practicing trying to extend grace where I can, so it was ok,” I replied.
“Well, you’re nicer than me,” he admitted and walked away.
It really got to me. What would I have gained had I denied her? It really didn’t interfere with my time. What if she was in a hurry? What if she wasn’t? Maybe she simply had bad manners, was impatient, or generally inconsiderate? It didn’t matter. None of it undid my act of extending a moment of grace to her through this tiny kindness.
We should never regret the kindnesses we’ve extended to others, only the ones we didn’t.
And why would this man have wasted the opportunity to act kindly? What would he have gained? Even if this woman was acting selfishly, does a kindness not counteract that selfishness? His unkindness would have only multiplied it.
I think the issue at hand is the idea that two wrongs counteract each other. Isn’t that the problem with society today as a whole? Haven’t we stopped giving one of our loves away when we have two? I think we tend to greedily keep both for our self. Instead of just being thankful for one days’ portion we’re constantly looking to store up enough for tomorrow too. The problem here is that we get to a point where we feel we can never have enough, and in the midst of our search for more for tomorrow we forget to look out for who doesn’t even have enough to get through today.
Maybe terminal illness helps you understand what’s really important, and conversely what’s not. I would argue that it does. It’s a hard way to learn those things, and luckily most people are blissfully ignorant to the difference in the two, but many of us were not afforded the luxury. Although, honestly, I think it’s another luxury in and of itself to know what it means go forth and try to spread goodness.
One of the ways I continue to honor our Miss Elliott’s life, and to spread Tay-Sachs awareness is to give out Random Act of Kindness cards.
It just so happens that we had given some out, attached to some bags of candy for the nurses and family members in the hospice center that evening. I wished I could have given one to the man in the pizza place, but I’ll just have to hope my words to him about grace will have sufficed. I hope he carries them forward and finds a way to exercise extending grace to others too.