The late afternoon sun cast brilliant shadows along the worn, dusty trail. It was a delightful spring day in my small town. I stopped for a moment to watch the children skip along the sidewalk as they happily exited their school. The kids were headed for the neighborhood coffee shop where smoothies, cookies and juices awaited them. Friendly crossing guards in brightly colored vests assisted the children to safety. Not wanting to disrupt this predictable routine, I dashed across the middle of the street, clad in my stiff back brace while tugging gently on my little dog’s leash. I was almost to the other side when I heard a voice directed toward me shouting, “I could’ve helped you cross the street safely, you didn’t have to run out on your own.” I turned toward the voice and saw a grinning crossing guard waving kindly at me. I thanked him and assured him that I would take him up on the offer the next time I walked the trail. As I got into my car to head home, I smiled, thinking about the encounter. Even in the midst of his busy day, that hard working crossing guard saw me and took the time to let me know that I mattered. Unbelievable.
This simple encounter has stayed with me for weeks. Every time I head to the trail to walk my dog or enter the coffee shop for an iced coffee, I think about his genuine kindness. It would have been so easy for him to ignore the crazy middle aged woman improperly crossing the street with her dog because he was busy, but for some reason he took time to let me know that I mattered. What a gift. I wondered if I extend the same kindness and love in my life as he extends in his?
The other day, I was speaking to a friend about kindness. She was asking why my dad’s primary care doctor is located near my home. In response to her question, I recounted the story of a stranger who afforded special kindness to my family during a time of real crisis. I smiled when thinking about the miraculous sequence of events which led to my parents being treated by such a wonderful, healing doctor who is located near my home, just west of Boston. When my mom was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, we had to get her into the best hospital for treatment which was Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston. Her doctor on Cape Cod had not done his job and would not/could not refer her off Cape. In the midst of a tumultuous time of phone calls with insurance companies and doctors, I found myself on the phone with a kindly nurse one day. We were desperate as time was not on our side and had almost given up hope but God was walking with us. This nurse sympathized with mom’s story and provided us with the name of a reputable doctor who would take new patients (mom and dad) and refer mom to Dana Farber for immediate treatment. This was a miraculous event in that mom was a stage 4 cancer patient. Thanks to this nurse, mom was able to receive life giving treatment at Dana Farber and we were blessed with 3 more precious years of life with her. I think of that nurse so often and bless her for her kindness and love to our family during a time of real need.
Kindness is such a simple thing – it’s really just an extension of the love that is in our hearts. In chapter 15 of the Gospel of John, before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
I have been praying with St. John’s gospel for the past few months and thinking about Jesus’ words to love one another. It is such a simple command but I wonder why we complicate it sometimes? Perhaps we let the distractions in the world – wealth, pleasure, power and honor – cloud our good judgement. These classic substitutes for God (according to St. Thomas Aquinas) do NOT help us discover authentic love and happiness – many have tried and many have attested to this truth including St. Augustine of Hippo. In Chapter XX of the Confessions, St. Augustine said, “I sought pleasure, nobility, and truth not in God but in the beings He had created, myself and others. Thus I fell into sorrow and confusion and error.” St. Augustine – a fourth century Bishop in the Catholic Church – has become one of my spiritual heroes. He was so human and made many mistakes in his life but he never stopped seeking the truth. After his conversion to Catholicism, Augustine realized that he could only find true love and lasting happiness when he united his heart to God. Over these past many years enduring physical pain, I have come to realize that the more I pray and place God at the center of my life, the easier it is to love unconditionally and live an authentically happy life.
In a recent homily, a good priest friend shared, “Our lives are like an open book, people either see Christ in us or they don’t – it’s all a matter of how we love.” I imagined the face of the crossing guard when my friend spoke these words. His kind gesture was offered without conditions or expectations – it was a simple act of love. If we want to live in a kinder world, we are called to love one another as Christ has loved us – and as the nurse loved my family and the crossing guard loved me and the priest loved his congregation and so on. So let’s inscribe our names in the book of life under the chapter titled Love One Another. Indeed the world will be better a place.