Sunday, 13 April 2014

Kindness Lights The Way

The words of kindness are more healing to a drooping heart than balm or honey. -Sarah Fielding (1710-1768)

I’m no techno wiz, but I am pretty sure that when you press the power button of your computer it’s not supposed to go all black. I stare, waiting…nothing.  The tiny arrow sits alone, lost in the middle of the screen.  I can relate.  I fiddle with the mouse and tap the keys randomly.  Nothing but darkness stares back at me.

It’s not the first time this has happened.  The last time, I googled “Help!  My screen is black.”   The search brought me to an endless series of YouTube videos where pimply-faced fifteen year olds in their parents’ basements shamed me with their patronising techno-speak.

Was my computer finally dead?  Or was it trying to tell me something. Maybe reflecting back to me- a sarcastic pathetic cyber fallacy of the void I was currently going through.  The arrow pointing fluorescently to the nowhere my life was heading.

I had had a hard few months.  It was one of those winters where the universe seems to align the stars to test your inner strength and ability to stay in motion.  When circumstances breathe of pivotal choices to be made and transformational moments that lie ahead.  A season where you question not how you got yourself in this painfully tight spot, but what the hell you are supposed to do now and what “important life lesson” you are supposed to be learning.  A season that has you taking that second glass of wine more often than usual and rationalizing the consumption of carbs that are now nesting conspicuously on your hips while your eyes leak tears of exhaustion that speak of your raw spirit.


At the young age of 19, my sister-in-law found herself unexpectedly pregnant. With twins.  A remarkably resilient woman, she has often retold me the story of how soon after their birth their father had to go out of town for work and so upon discharge, she juggled them alone into a taxi along with cases of donated formula and proceeded to wade through the many months of sleep deprivation and isolation that followed as best she could.

But like all new parents she soon learned that the scary exhaustion of infancy eventually gives way to years of unfathomable joy.  That while we are worrying and puzzling at them, our kids inevitably manage to burst open a well of profound emotion we never knew existed and to wrap their sticky little fingers permanently around our hearts. Only this terrifically tight grasp also increases our vulnerability.

Daily life with young twins is a logistic complexity that rivals the tactical manoeuverings of the most sophisticated of armies. Gone are the days of jumping into the grocery store on your way home to “pick up a couple things for dinner.”  This simple act is replaced by a week of budgeting and meal planning that culminates in a full day excursion which includes lifting one child in and out of the shopping cart 17 times because they are tired and/or touching everything in the aisles and/or persistently irritating their sibling by poking them in the ear, dislocating your shoulder steering your cart in an erratic drunken manner to avoid running over the other child who is determined to ride on the front end but jumps off every time they see a TV-advertised sugary treat, a requisite 12 unplanned trips to the bathroom, and packing  your purse with 3 varieties of  emergency snacks and juice boxes in order to get through this marathon shopping trip you absolutely have to do in order to buy more snacks and juice boxes.

It was after one of these relaxing outings that my sister-in-law found herself finally waiting at the bus stop with her daughters, her six overstuffed bags of food balanced precariously against her legs.  She was tired and deflated.  The weekly grocery trip was a cyclical reminder of how tight money was and how life had turned out so differently than she had expected.  Life was not easy and many a day they lived on little more than love and dreams for the future.

The girls had caught a second wind and were now chasing each other in fits of giggles around the sidewalk.  They were having a great time when all of a sudden one of them missed her footing and went tumbling face down on the concrete in front of her.   After a suspended second of disbelief, chaos unraveled.  The young girl screamed in fear and pain.  Her mother yelled as she leaped to pick her up in her arms.  Her sister wailed at the sight of gushing blood. 

Before they could compose themselves or fully assess the situation, a car pulled up beside them.

“Get in!” the driver called out.


“I saw what happened.  Get in!  I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

Perhaps in a more prudent moment she would have hesitated to get into the car of some random man with her two young daughters, but maternal instinct kicked in and so leaving her groceries bags standing alone by the side of the road like the forgotten remains of some impulsive ghostly chef, she pulled her girls into the car and delivered herself to the trust of this stranger.

At the hospital they were rushed into a triage room where a nurse cleaned the wounds and her daughter was artfully stitched up by a friendly resident.  Hours later when the adrenaline of the crisis had subsided and they sat quietly awaiting their discharge papers, she realized that she had not even had the chance to thank the kind stranger for the ride.  Moments later a nurse came in to check on them.

“So you’re all set then.  When you go, don’t forget your bags by the front desk.”

“Bags?  I don’t have any bags.” Confused, she followed the nurse to the waiting area.  There lined up by the reception desk were six white bags.  It did not take long for her to realize what had happened. The stranger, understanding what it meant for a young mother of two to lose a week’s worth of groceries, had gone back to the bus stop to retrieve them.


Without warning, my screen clicks on.  It lights the room in a warm glow. The email browser pops open.  1 new message.  I click out of curiosity. It’s from a colleague I don’t see often but who has heard about my current struggles.

Was thinking about you today.  Like this cat, I know you will land on your feet and that your best is yet to come.”

A crazy cat photo jumps out at me and I laugh, my heart lightening for the first time in a long while.  My breath comes easier and my eyes are wet this time with gratitude for this unanticipated note. It was the reminder I needed of gentle goodness served during a season where the grey skies and heavy air only contrasted more sharply with every unexpected moment of kindness. Sometimes we just need reassurance that all will be ok when we don’t have the resolve to believe it on our own.

Like a stranger stopping to let you know they saw what happened,

or a few little words that reach out through the screen to take your hand, let you know you are not alone and remind you that in darkness,

…kindness lights the way.

*Some details have been altered to protect the privacy of those involved but remain true to the essence of the events.