Thursday, June 12, 2008
The Kindness of Strangers
BroRo, Harris and I at a chemo session. As mentioned in earlier posts, Harris (dark hair) offered me his hair for a wig. I considered it, but in the end couldn't bear to think of separating it from the beard. They are such a matched set.
Elephants have always been my favorite wild animal. They say they are very social creatures; they travel with their sick and their young in the center of the herd for protection. As for the dying members of their pack, they do not leave them behind in order that the herd may move faster, rather they have actually been known to have two strong elephants prop up a sick elephant on either side and walk along with them lending their strength and support.
This is the best analogy I can think of to describe how my own loved ones responded when I received my diagnosis. They didn't grieve, they mobilized. I was protected, encircled, propped up... I had always seen myself in the giver role, and never imagined that I would be the one on the receiving end of such care. But there it was and I couldn't have gotten by without it.
Like Christina said; when asking God why these things happen she felt the answer "so that we can love each other". For all the love that I have received from these people closest to me, one thing that always moves me is the love I have received from strangers.
Yesterday I was trying to make a phone call to someone I had not ever met but knew her husband socially. I had heard that she had recently received the same diagnosis and I wanted to talk to her. I accidentally dialed a wrong number, however, but of course did not realize it. When the phone was answered, I told her who I was, that I was going through chemotherapy like her. She seemed confused; I reminded her that I had sent her an email and that I knew her husband. She then asked, "oh, really? how is he?" Well, at this point is was obvious that I had a wrong number. But she then didn't want to let me off the phone! I could hear the genuine concern in her voice as she asked me how I was feeling and said she was sorry I had cancer. She wished me the best of luck and told me she would be thinking of me. All this care from a total stranger.
Today I was in a bookstore and a stranger walked up to me and asked me how I was doing. We talked for twenty minutes and she hugged me when she left.
And a few weeks ago I was sitting in a cafe killing time and one of the employees came up to me and asked me if he could get me anything. I said no, he proceeded to ask how I was feeling and if he could help with anything. He said "I used to wear a scarf too, but I was going through... chemotherapy?" He phrased it as a question as this was the time when I still looked, in Eileen's words. like a "chemotherapy wannabe" ( I still had my eyebrows and eyelashes and my skin tone looked relatively normal). It ended up him and his mother were both diagnosed with cancer at the same time -they went through chemo together.
And then there are all the little things- people running to get doors for me, going out of their way to give me the sign of peace at mass, sending me cards or small gifts in the mail, smiling at me in line in the grocer store in a way that goes beyond the disinterested friendliness that we reserve for strangers in our culture. People don't always say the right thing and sometimes their efforts are clumsy in their earnest desire to be of comfort. But I'm sure that heaven is not blind to these small gestures of compassion; nothing is lost or wasted or forgotten.
In an earlier post, I mentioned my trip to Medjugorje and the priest there that heard my confession on Dec. 31 2007, the day before the beginning of what was to be the most terrifying and amazing year of my life this far. I told him about this growing desire in my heart to love God more, not for his gifts but just for himself and my frustration at my inability to do so. He responded simply "the desire to love more comes from the desire to be loved more. God is preparing your heart to show you how much HE loves YOU."
How prophetic that has turned out to be.