Monday, March 3, 2014

Random Acts of Kindness

About a month ago Cameron and I attended church and experienced an opportunity to visit briefly with our friend Walt. He told us a story of going to the post office and getting out of his car to see a man nearby, sitting in his car with the door open. The man appeared heavily burdened, so Walt being Walt walked up to see if he could help. The man told Walt his wife had died a few days before, and for a moment let Walt help him out of the car, and just leaned on him with tears streaming down his cheeks. I can imagine big, tall, graying 70-year-old Walt holding the old, grieving man in his bear hug. Walt told us how it touched his heart and what it meant to be a part of the man's life for those tender moments.

Put that on the back burner.

Last Saturday I attended Walt's funeral. He'd had a heart attack during the recent winter storm. His wife couldn't even make it the hospital the first day as he lay in intensive care.

Put that on the back burner.

Walt was the kind of man that when a young couple, obviously impoverished, showed up on Christmas eve to sit on the back row of the church, took up a donation for them. Right there, during the service, there's Walt walking around getting money...and people gave. They left with a wad of 20s in their pockets. Walt told the congregation they were angels visiting and it was our responsibility to care for them on Christmas. That was Walt.

Stirring it together.

Adding a side story.

21 years ago my Vietnam Vet husband David died alone of suicide. We had separated a year earlier because of my fear that he would commit homicide and suicide. It was a hard decision, but I later learned that his cancer had gone to his brain, bringing about dangerous mood shifts and behavior. In the months leading up to his death he began calling. I knew what he was saying couldn't be true, but I loved him and made plans to go see him. I never made it see him alive. David committed suicide on New Year's Eve. I borrowed money from everyone I knew to get to the funeral. I was so focused on getting there I didn't have time to begin the grieving process. He was Catholic, so the memorial service was in some random chapel. He'd been cremated by necessity. I was in shock, sobbing, and kept staring at the box holding his ashes trying to figure out how they got his long legs in that tiny box. It took days to realize it was simply ashes.

So there I stood in our church, 21 years later, staring at tiny box holding ashes. I couldn't look, couldn't imagine how those long legs fit. Later, a soldier played Taps and a flag was folded for the grieving widow. And I gave thanks to Walt one last time, for relieving me of a heavy burden of when the last time I stood in cemetery, listening to Taps and watching my husband's ashes being interred.

And the next story to stir in the mix.

Family violence touches the people we know in the shadows and in secret. Even when you know there's a problem, you never know how bad it was until the story ends. It ended last weekend in a memorial service in the backyard of a family we love dearly. Out of respect, I won't say too much about the details. But I was grateful, as I stepped into the role of a priestess, for David's spirit. He'd taught me to love my children. He'd taught me sobriety. He'd taught me a work ethic. And in his final gift, he taught me how to cope with a suicide. How to face the blood on a mattress and do what is needful. And how to be okay doing what was needful.

The next chapter.

I listen to Phoenix Rising Radio and read Going Global: East Meets West regularly. A gentleman by the name of Jazzman calls in regularly and I've always found him delightful. He stopped calling in last fall, and Phoenix put out the word for him to call. Phoenix reported back he eventually had made contact, but didn't reveal why Jazzman was out of touch when I was listening. Last night, I was listening when Phoenix announced that Jazzman was in the hospital. He wasn't doing so well last week, but was showing improvement. Jazzman had requested his hospital location and phone be made public. Looking on the website, I was surprised to see it was within 30 miles of where we live. So this morning we drove downtown to the hospital. There we met a good man.

Jazzman is about 10 years older and, in his words, a person of color. He was rather surprised and extremely happy to meet two lily white people from Phoenix Rising Radio. In that first moment, he later said, he couldn't figure out who would know him as "The Jazzman". Tears streamed down his cheeks unashamed as we hugged. He clung to both of us in turn. And we talked. About religion. About sexuality. About culture. About family. Even about Cameron's being transgender. And we were touched, deeply touched. If you are curious about Jazzman, this is a blog entry from several years ago: Who's Afraid of Cancer.

I asked him what brought him to the hospital. He said last Wed he was dying. Judging by what I heard and saw, yes he was. He's somewhat improved, but facing a difficult path. He has to heal enough to have surgery again as he has a blockage in the intestine and it doesn't look good. Nevertheless, the three of us visited and it became a powerful, frank, sacred space. I was blessed to be there.

On the way home, we stopped at the local Taco Bell for a quick supper. A crew member not yet on duty started chatting about the rain and her granddaughter who has asthma. We visited a bit, and a few minutes later when she heard me say I didn't get my chips, fetched them unasked. What a lovely random act of kindness.

A short while later, a middle aged man at the next table struck up a conversation, telling us about serving in Desert Storm and his struggle with PTSD. He hugged us, two total strangers, before leaving. I thanked him for serving our country.

So many stories. Stirred together, it becomes a montage of surprising encounters, unexpected blessings, and random acts of kindnesses both given and received. I'm still catching my breath, but I can't shake that feeling the Divine has noticed and blessed us.

1 comment:

  1. Old friends lost and new friends made. Blessings to all!