I have always maintained that we always get what we want, but it never seems to come in the packaging we expect – never more so than with kindness.
One year ago
“I’m grateful to you for cooking me supper.” Chris said.
“I’m also grateful for supper. And you.” Josh said.
“Me too. I’m very grateful its steak for supper.” Shannon said.
I’d heard that a daily gratitude practise could improve a person’s happiness and persuaded the family we should say what we were grateful for each day at supper. This was day eight of everyone being grateful for their dinner. I thought about my mood and tried to consider how I was feeling. Irritated at their lack of imagination, if I was honest.
That night I read over my entries in my spanking new, Moleskine, gratitude journal. Minor irritations, specific and unspecific worries, slights and indignation spewed across the pages. And, buried in each sentence, the belief that my good fortune was a product of my talents and hard work and luck. The world I read about on those pages wasn’t gratifying or kind.
Fast forward to 2017
Cancer arrived, unexpected, unexplained, unwanted. We didn’t notice kindness slipping in behind it. Kindness (and its sibling gratitude) arrived, like a newborn, in a writhing, screaming burst of pain and blood and bodily fluids. I was unprepared. I still am. And, like a new mother, I’m not sure I’m managing it properly. In fact, I don’t even know how to describe my experience of kindness without this post becoming a list or a thank you letter.
It began on the day Josh was diagnosed. We were still shell-shocked and empty eyed with pain when people started to arrive. At the front of the queue, outside the ICU door, was his swim coach. Behind her stood legions of friends, teachers, family and well wishers. When Josh finally made it back to the ward there could be twenty people crammed into his tiny room. The paediatric nurses put kindness above convenience and waved their two-visitor rule.
Ever since then kindness has just kept arriving in tuck-loads. It’s come in the shape of gifts, books, comics, games, massage oils, baked goods, computer equipment, cosmetics, spa treatments, helicopter flips, a trip to Comic Con. There are so many I can’t list them all.
There are also the priceless gifts that people have given us of time, advice and advocacy, shared stories, tears and support. Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist prayer and meditation groups ignore his ardent atheism and carry him in their prayers and meditation anyway.
And I keep waiting for the bill to arrive
I’ve spent the last eight months waiting for all these people to demand the payback that they surely deserve. I’ve waited and waited for the bill to arrive. For one or all of them to remind me how much I owe. For someone to want something in return.
And, I wonder, how could I ever repay it in any event? How could I ever pay enough that could cover the gift of feeling cared for, of feeling that we are not alone, of feeling that people notice my son and would surely notice if he wasn’t around, the feeling that there are folks out there to share the burden? I couldn’t.
I’m still not sure that the advice of counting your blessings can make you happier. I suspect not. I do, now, know what it feels like to be the recipient of immense kindness. I know that gratitude is a steady, soothing hum in the background of everyday: gratitude for making it this far; gratitude for all the people who care. Kindness and gratitude are what’s made it possible to trudge on in the days when the fear and the heartbreak and the slime of desperation felt thickest.
I didn’t except kindness or gratitude to arrive wrapped in a cancer shaped gift bag but I am a better, kinder person because of it. I am happier knowing that, despite the greed and decay that the media purveys, I live in a world that is kinder than I ever imagined.