Life Lessons from the Kindness of Strangers

Recently during the course of my day, I was in a medical office where the doctor’s name seemed vaguely familiar. As I went about my work I kept tossing the name around in my head and started flipping through my mental files. And then it struck me. Nearly 15 years ago, just a month or two after losing my first husband, my son [Dylan] had been sick and was referred to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist. As it turned out, he needed to have his adenoids removed. I vividly remember sitting in that doctor’s office crying. I knew the outpatient surgery for Dylan wasn’t serious. It wasn’t that. It was just…everything. I was already feeling fragile and this just felt like too much. Too hard. Too overwhelming. It would be the first major life thing I was going to have to face without my husband by my side. As this young doctor looked at me with compassion and concern, trying to reassure me that my son would be okay, I could no longer hold it together.

“We have no health insurance”, I sobbed through ragged breaths. While my little boy   quietly sat next to me, I began to tell this virtual stranger some back story to my tears. “I recently lost my husband and everything hasn’t been sorted out yet.” I told him that I was worried about the cost and details of the surgery. That I was scared. And sad. (And then I apologized profusely for my complete meltdown and tried to pull myself back together…) Without a moment’s delay, he told me that I had nothing to worry about . He went on to say that he would take care of everything, adding that while he could only speak for his own expenses, he would personally talk to the anesthesiologist and the hospital, as well. I was floored. To say I was relieved; touched; comforted: all MAJOR understatements. The kindness of this stranger sustained me that day. Would I have figured it out? Yes. But instead of having to wade through all of that fear and uncertainty, this doctor immediately offered what he could to lighten my load.

It all came rushing back as I stood there in the same office. A nurse walked in and I told her I couldn’t leave without sharing my story.  As I described what had happened all those years ago, she didn’t look a bit surprised. “That sounds just like him”, she said. “That’s just how he lives his life.” When she asked my name, I told her it didn’t matter–there was no way he would ever remember. “Oh no!” she answered quickly. “Doctor never forgets these things. They leave an impact on him too.”

This was the second time I would be leaving that office with tears running down my face. This time, the words ‘That’s just how he lives his life’ racing through my mind. And a burning question: What do people say of me? What WILL people say of me? It’s not a question you can answer for yourself. But I want to be known the way this doctor is–for kindness and generosity, compassion and grace. I have a long way to go but I hope I’m on my way,  stumbling and failing forwards. We’re all on this crazy ride together–if there’s a way we can make it easier for someone else, let’s do it.

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