The other day, my husband and I were returning from a trip late in the day. I told my husband that I would get on the shuttle bus to the car and come back and pick him up while he waited for our bags. When I got to the shuttle, it was empty. I ended up sitting on the bus for almost 5 minutes by myself, before anyone else started showing up. People continued to trickle in for quite a while. I sat patiently waiting as they all got on the bus. After 15 minutes I called my husband and he had already got our bags. Since the driver didn’t seem to be anywhere near ready to take off, I told him to go ahead and head on over. After about 5 minutes, the driver was ready to leave. All in all, I had waited almost a half an hour. I called my husband to see how near he was. He said he could see the shuttle from where he was at. I asked the driver if he could wait, but a very obnoxious woman on the bus started screaming at me that she was tired and wanted to go. I explained to her that I had been the first one on the bus and had waited patiently for everyone else, so she could wait for me. She went ballistic, so the bus left without my husband. In addition, she got everyone else riled up against me on the bus, so that when I got dropped off, not one person moved their bags out of the way for me to get my bags. With my arm lacking lymph nodes, I had to search through and move everyone else’s luggage to get to my bags. I couldn’t believe that in a group that large, there was not one compassionate person.
Having faced the true possibility of death and the loss of dignity that accompanies cancer, I guess I have a different perspective about human kindness. When you are facing an “estimated life expectancy” you begin to ask very philosophical questions, such as:
What kind of life did I lead?
Did my life matter?
Did I leave the world better than I found it?
I thought about missed opportunities. Times when I had the opportunity to do something nice and giving for another human being, but didn’t. Fortunately, that list was very short, but even so, I felt tremendously guilty about them. When I reflected upon those times, usually what was stopping me was something that truly had no meaning to me today. Waiting 10 minutes to help a fellow human being seems so insignificant when you are facing the end of your life. I realize now, that by passing up those opportunities, I did not just miss the opportunity to enhance my life by doing a kind act, but I actually diminished my own significance by being so selfish. It’s as if in the marathon of my life, I took several steps backwards with each one of these instances.
In contrast, when reflecting upon those occasions in which I actually did do nice things for people, I relive the joy of those people over and over again. It never diminishes and when I was facing death, THOSE were the memories that comforted me. THOSE were my answers to the questions above. If my life has been a marathon, then these random acts of kindness were sprints that propelled me faster and further than anything else.
And acts of kindness don’t need to be anything more than waiting a few extra minutes for someone’s husband, or buying the 12 inch sandwich and giving the other half to a homeless person, or helping an elderly person get big bags of potting soil into their car. They often involve little more than small amounts of your time and effort, but end up being the stuff your eternity will be built upon.