I've been thinking about kindness a lot since reading John Gray's thoughts about it on Sunday. One thing in particular that he said has stuck with me: "Kindness often never solves anything. But it softens the misery."
While thinking about the subject of kindness and looking for opportunities to be kind to others, I opened Facebook the other night and saw my chance. A woman I went to high school with was posting an update about her son who's in the hospital. She was one of my best friends during our teenage years, but then we drifted apart after graduation and only recently reconnected via Facebook. Her life has been terribly sad. She had three children, two of which were boys born with a genetic disease that is fatal (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duchenne_muscular_dystrophy). Her older son passed away a few years ago. The younger is deteriorating rapidly and will almost certainly not live much longer. He's currently in the hospital with pneumonia and has been put on a ventilator. I cannot even imagine the pain and sorrow this woman has had to endure in her life, losing one child and the prospect of losing another looming. Her husband was injured in the Middle East (he was in the army) and can't work, and of course with two terminally ill kids she's never been able to have a job, either. I know they receive government aid and benefits, but it's obvious that they're quite poor despite that.
Here's where a pet peeve of mine comes in, and I hope I don't offend anyone. There was a giant chorus of "I'll pray for you!" "You're in our prayers!" "Prayers going up!!" etc etc on her Facebook page when she posted the update on her son's condition. I hate that. Because to my ears, what that really sounds like is "we can't be bothered to actually do something to help you so we'll just say we're praying and then we don't have to feel guilty about not getting off our asses and taking some responsibility to help". Now, I realize some people truly believe that their prayers are helpful or else that's the automatic response they've been raised to give when someone is in trouble. When Gregg was fighting cancer I always thanked people for their prayers, but I can tell you from first hand experience that a prayer doesn't do shit to help when you're scared, or hurting, or in trouble. The people who stand out in my memory are the ones who stopped by, called, dropped off food, offered to run errands, or came over to simply sit and watch TV with Gregg while he was undergoing chemotherapy and had a lot of long, lonely hours at home to fill when I was at work. The people who actually DID something.
So back to this woman, I sent her a private message on Facebook and asked her what I could do for her. I learned that the family doesn't own a car and what she really needed was a ride home for her and her daughter. The hospital where her son is currently in ICU is right down the road from my house, but the family lives an hour away. She and her husband have been depending on rides from family and friends to take turns staying at the hospital. She asked if I'd be willing to drive her and her daughter home to shower and get some rest, and bring her husband back with me and drop him off at the hospital on my way home. So that's what I did. I also brought some graphic novels for the sick boy (his mom had told me he likes them) and a bunch of free ARC (advance reader copy ) teen books for her daughter. Hours spent at the hospital are long hours and I hope the girl enjoys the books. The sick boy won't be able to read his until later--for now while he's on a ventilator they're keeping him sedated.
So that's how I spent my afternoon today. Did I particularly want to do it? To be honest, no. I'm no saint, and this woman and I aren't going to be rekindling the friendship we had in high school. Saying we're very different people now would be a huge understatement. And did the rides I gave them make a big difference in their lives? Again, no. It was just a single day that was a tiny bit easier for them in the midst of many, many hard days. But I do hope that for a little while their misery was softened because someone cared a little bit.