A Time to be Kind

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

Do you have a moment?

It’s a question that may easily induce mild panic or annoyance in most people. What demand on our time or energy is going to be requested of us? We may smile outwardly and respond, while inwardly gritting our teeth.

I don’t mean those kind of moments – times when others are asking for a favour or want to talk intensely for a while. I’m talking about the little moments in-between the hubbub of activities that dominate our lives.

Our days are made up of everything from eating, drinking, sleeping, washing, work and chores to leisure pursuits, projects, plans, errands, to caring or managing, learning and doing. In between all this busyness, we often find ourselves faced with a moment. A person or situation observed where we could make a difference in some small, seemingly insignificant way.

A moment where we could walk by or a moment when we could engage.

In his gripping life story, ‘Ghost Boy’, Martin Pistorius tells of being imprisoned by his illness-onset disability, unable to communicate or manoeuvre his body, even after his brain functionality had been restored, unbeknownst to his carers. He tells of a time sitting in a car on the street, waiting for his father to return, when a man walked past and smiled at him. Used to being ignored and talked over, just this small, friendly gesture and acknowledgement of his existence restored his hope in humanity, giving him a reason to not give up on living. That one smile made a big difference not just to Martin’s day, but also his life.

Frequently we use our spare moments to read or to look at a screen; I know I like to use spare minutes to read the news or look at social media on my phone. On Sat, while visiting my elderly mother in a busy hospital ward, I was on the other side of the curtain while two nurses were carrying out a procedure on her.  I looked around at the other elderly women on the ward. One frail, white haired woman in the bed next to mum had been sniffing and lightly coughing. Looking around for nurses or auxiliaries, I saw none. All staff were otherwise occupied.

I decided to say yes to the compassion that rose in my heart and to engage.

“Are you cold?”

She nodded.

“Would you like me to find you another blanket?”

Again, a simple nod.

I went to the nearby reception desk and asked if I could take a clean blanket from the trolley for the lady by the window? A receptionist said yes.

Collecting one of the standard NHS blue blankets, I folded it in two and lay it on top of the coughing patient, also pulling up her sheets to cover her shoulders and neck. I asked her if she’d like some water to drink. Again, she nodded, so I picked up the plastic cup on her table and guided the straw to her lips. As I set the cup back down, she summoned up the energy to whisper ‘Thank You.’ My heart melted. What I did took less than a minute, but it meant a great deal to her. No visitor had dropped by to see her during the three and half hours afternoon visiting slot.

Kindness doesn’t necessarily take up a whole lot of our time or effort. Sometimes we just need to respond to that gentle call to action that stirs up within us during unsuspecting moments. I will certainly be grateful if other people visiting relatives on Ward 6 of James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston show kindness to my fragile mum.

We should never underestimate the power of small acts of kindness. Not only is the recipient of such acts blessed; the giver is also rewarded with an enormous sense of purpose. It’s in giving to others that our humanity is revealed and we glimpse something of our compassionate God, who loves to work in us and touch others through us.

The line from a song we’ve been singing at church recently kept resounding through my head later on – “Let heaven come.” When we show compassion and kindness, we experience evidence of God’s kingdom being revealed on earth. That’s when a part of heaven touches earth.

Poem for Boston: Marathon Monday

Expectancy in the crowds
Runners push themselves to the limit
Breathless and bubbling with pride
Destined for glory
Racing towards the finish line

Eyes focus on the final stretch
A race against time
Passion compels to keep going
Even under the strain

Oh the pleasure of a momentous day! When –

Loud blasts dismay, flames invade
The unthinkable shatters
Dreams strewn in the gutter
Anticipation smashed by shock
Coursing through veins like a smack in the face
Into a heart of absolute terror

No cheers or jubilation
Explosions steal the day
Fear overtakes and crying commences
Chaos tears through, taking centre stage

Blood on the streets
Carnage surrounds
Fear etched on their faces
Destruction blasts the joy away
People panic and fall on this

Horror filled Marathon Monday

It was never meant to be this way
Why did this have to happen today?
Goals and dreams smashed in pieces
Despair and dread assume their places

Anything can spoil a day
But they never thought it would end this way

Pain inflicted on purpose
A hellish scene to behold
Utter disbelief, complete shock
How can someone choose to act this way?
A moment of madness brings

On this April Marathon Monday

But there is hope in humanity as
Arms reach out and legs run into
The commotion
Caring hands help heal the wounded
Swift to repair, to hold, to revive
Nothing can impede the human spirit
Forged by God himself, made in His image

Love will overcome
And Boston will rise
To live another day
But may never be quite the same

Oh the heartache of a single day

May freedom ring out once more on Patriots’ Day

Living in Community: Reinforcing my Humanity

Photo credit: Creative Commons

This morning I stopped in our street to chat with a neighbour who’s recently moved in. I’ve known her for quite a while, since her children attend the same schools as mine. Among other topics, we talked about a great baker’s in town, which was previously unknown to me. Note to self: must buy some fresh bread there next time I’m passing that way.

Later in the afternoon my retired next door neighbour came by to ask if we’d be able to put his bins out while he is away next week. “Of course”, I replied, “that’s no problem at all.” We then went on to chat about his planned trip to Italy before I returned to finish unpacking my shopping.

Last night another neighbour a few doors down dropped in to talk about how our rabbit was adapting to his new environment. (She was temporarily minding him while we were looking after a rescue dog for the week.) She stayed a while and we had a good laugh over the antics of rabbits.

Throughout the week I’ve had various exchanges with individuals who live all around me, not necessarily long conversations – but certainly more than a cursory glance and a wave.

I live in a neighbourhood that reflects the diversity of our city. In our street alone there are young families and families with teenagers, students, elderly folk, Italians, Slovakians and Pakistanis; singles, unemployed people, blue collar and white collar employees – perhaps mirroring a whole cross section of British society.

Like most places, my area has its pros and cons, but on the whole I like it. I enjoy being in touch with those who live around me. It reinforces my humanity and confirms my part in building positive relationships with others – even those with whom I might not easily get along.

The other day my Slovakian neighbour dropped around a couple of packages that the postman had left with him. He often signs for our parcels (we order a lot online) and brings them over with a smile. We’ve passed on a few items of furniture to him, for which he has been grateful. There are some obvious, mutual benefits to living in close proximity.

Compare this to the time we lived in a large house in New Jersey for three years, when we only spoke to our immediate neighbours a few times. We didn’t know anyone else in the street, hardly ever saw them – let alone conversed with them. Driving everywhere most of the time probably didn’t help. Around here, people walk quite a bit and there’s a park nearby where one nearly always bumps into a few known faces.

Here in our city street I know at least ten individuals or families by name, as well as some others. Most of us have lived here several years, which helps in this regard. Many have children of similar ages to mine. Yet we are all quite different – whether in age, style, background or ethnicity. I got to know several of them when I joined the committee of our Residents’ Association a few years ago.

I’m pretty sure I would be utterly bored to only live life around others just like me. It’s the differences that make community interesting. I guess that’s part of my eclectic nature: I like variety; uniformity just doesn’t appeal to me. The thought of neighbourhoods reminiscent of The Truman Show movie scares the heck out of me.

Perhaps what I appreciate most of all about my community? There are no dilemmas concerning ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. There’s freedom to be yourself and maintain your own preferences. No one cares less what car you drive or whether there’s dust on your mantelpiece. And that about sums it up: we accept one another and support one another. As true communities should.