I read the book, Love is a Mixed Tape a few years ago. It’s a memoir written by a reporter for Rolling Stone about falling in love with his wife and then dealing with her sudden death a few years after they were married. It’s a great book, in spite of the sad premise; especially if you’re one of those people who can define different periods of their life with what music they were listening to at the time (guilty). When Sheffield loses his wife he is heart-broken over the loss. However as life moves forward, he realizes that there is something else equally as heartbreaking that goes along with loss and difficult times in life. And that is the tidal wave of human kindness that inevitably follows every tragedy.
“Human benevolence is totally unfair. We don't live in a kind or generous world, yet we are kind and generous. We know the universe is out to burn us, and it gets us all the way it got Renee, but we don't burn each other, not always. We are kind people in an unkind world, to paraphrase Wallace Stevens. How do you pretend you don't know about it, after you see it? How do you go back to acting like you don't need it? How do you even the score and walk off a free man? You can't. I found myself forced to let go of all sorts of independence I thought I had, independence I had spent years trying to cultivate. That world was all gone, and now I was a supplicant, dependent on the mercy of other people's psychic hearts.”
If you have ever been ill or lost someone close to you or been through a tough time, you know the way that the kindness of others can build you up and break your heart at the same time. Being sick has exposed me to so much kindness that I will never be the same.
When I was initially diagnosed with aplastic anemia, I was studying abroad in Ecuador and had to be medically evacuated on a small jet to Miami. Once I was in the U.S., it was my own problem how I was going to get back home to Michigan. I stayed in the hospital in Miami for a while but needed to eventually get home for treatment. I was too sick to fly commercially (low platelets + cabin pressure = potential cranial bleeding = no good), so I had 2 options: pay approximately 30,000 dollars for a private charter plane to take me home, flying at a lower, safe altitude, or drive from FL to MI. And here comes the kindness kicker: the head doctor at the health clinic at Michigan State University (where I was going to school) offered to fly down and drive with us back so that she could monitor my health throughout the trip. I had never met her before.
That seemed like our only option, until a family acquaintance called to say that he had extra time on his charter plane and offered to let us use his plane. For free. I had never met him before. I still have never met either of them.
When I first got diagnosed, my second cousin called my parents from Afghanistan to say that he was getting registered to be a bone marrow donor. This I just can’t understand. My second cousin…risking his life for our country…calls from a war zone…to offer his support…and his bone marrow to me. ME. WHY?
My sister went to visit her boyfriend, Sean’s uncle who is far too young to be in hospice care, fighting brain cancer. When my sister arrived his wife asked her, “How’s your sister doing? We’ve been praying for her.” To which, Sean’s uncle added, “She’s at the top of our list”.
When I was diagnosed, my community hosted a bone marrow drive for me. Hundreds of people came. People I hadn’t spoken to in years, people who knew my mom but had never met me, people who heard the story and just showed up.
My dad is a hockey writer and has covered the NHL for over 25 years. I have always heard that the hockey community is a small one and they take care of each other. Since getting sick I know this to be true without question. There was a week after I came home from the hospital where I got a package everyday from an NHL team or employee. A cookie basket from the Nashville Predators. A package from the Pittsburgh Penguins with a Pens hat, bobble head and a letter from Mario Lemieux. A sweatshirt from the NHLPA. A t-shirt and keychain from the Anaheim Ducks.
Are you shaking your head at this list?? I am. I am floored by these stories. I understand kindness. I have seen moments that leave me feeling like my chest might explode from witnessing such selflessness. But it something quite different when it is directed towards me. It confuses me because I feel undeserving. It pulls my heart in a million directions. It makes me sad for some reason, but it also brings me joy. It makes me want to cry, but it also makes me smile. But most of all, it is humbling. It’s like if everyone figured out that you couldn’t afford groceries, and when you came home to your house, every room was full of groceries. What you were once lacking, you now have in abundance, and you can’t help but look around, touched, but wondering, “What will I ever do with all of this?”
That’s how I feel about the kindness in those stories. What will I ever do with all of this? Because it is certainly more than I ever expected.
I think that this is the type of kindness Rob Sheffield was talking about. It’s in the moment in life when your world collapses around you and you think you might never heal from it. When you think your legs will never be able bear your own weight again because the sadness, the fight that’s ahead of you is too much. It’s in those moments when the kindness and strength of your rallying community will take your sorrow and fear and turn them to ash. And it is an incredible thing to experience.
But it also comes with a price. Because this type of generosity will make that cynical, self-preserving person inside you, squirm uncomfortably. That strong-willed, independent person that you’ve been building up your whole life, will not survive the assault. After you’ve been on the receiving end of such kindness, you cannot go on thinking that people are to be kept at arm’s length, because there is too much potential to get hurt. You can’t go on thinking that you don’t need anyone, that you can do it all alone.
The truth is that while we celebrate individuality and independence in this country, we need each other. No man is an island, no matter how hard he tries. We were never meant to go through this life alone, especially not the difficult times. So I’m giving it up. The independent, stubborn girl inside of me is buckling under the weight such generosity. I’ll acknowledge that I need the kindness of others. I need help sometimes. I cannot do it alone. But I also promise to return the favor. I will recognize the weakness and silliness of myself but only so that when I see it in others, I will feel empathy and offer in abundance what has been given to me without hesitation.
If you can kill someone with kindness, then I have been killed 10 times over by all of you who have said a prayer on my or my family’s behalf, or hugged my mom, asked my dad how his daughter’s doing, or read and commented on this little blog, or sent a card, a care package, an email, or the tiniest good thought my way. Your goodness fills me up and encourages me. It reminds me that God is good and will provide us comfort in difficult times. I cannot thank you enough.
I had coffee with my pastor and his wife recently and we talked about our love of international work and ministry. He told me how much he wants to work internationally, but that his love for his family always brings him home. He told me that people are like warehouses, always needing eventually to be restocked with whatever we need in order to continue to do good in this world. Without intending to, this time at home has allowed me to restock the shelves that were getting filled with anxiety and fear, with all things good and light. And I owe it to all of you. So thank you, for breaking my heart in the best possible way.
No counts to report this week because they gave me a week off of going to the doctor. I have an appointment Tuesday and I will let you know then! I have knocked a few things off my 25 by 25 list too. I'll tell you all about it soon :)