The Gifts of Kindness
Shared by Christine
“When a brother acts insanely, he is offering you an opportunity to bless him. His need is yours. You need the blessing you can offer him. There is no way to have it except by giving it. This is the law of God, and it has no exceptions.” (From Text Chapter 7)
In my Workbook practice, I’ve been asking for a more alive relationship with Jesus. I recently had an experience that, as I reflect on it, feels like an answer to my prayer:
Waiting for my appointment to have blood drawn at Lab Corp, I look up from reading my daily lesson in A Course in Miracles when I hear a loud male voice politely ask a question: “Is this the right place for this test?”
The woman behind the glass panel looks at the paperwork and says to the elderly man in front of her, “No this cannot be done here; you need to go to Simon Med.”
“What? Can you repeat that? You see, I am hard of hearing.”
The woman repeats the words. I notice that I am also having trouble understanding her, because she has a strong accent. And I wonder how he’ll ever be able to figure out what she is saying to him.
Again, with seemingly great patience, the old man presses his palms against the counter and leans forward, straining to hear. He tries to follow the directions by repeating the words he does manage to hear. But it is obvious to me that he will leave this room and not remember anything that has been told him.
“I’ll write it on this notepad.” The woman’s assistant hands a tiny yellow piece of paper to him.
“Oh, thank you very much.” He walks away slowly a few steps, apparently trying to absorb what the writing means. He cautiously exits the door and pauses on the sidewalk, looking up for the street sign names. I can see his figure through the large glass windows.
I approach the desk. “Can I go try to help him? It’s obvious he’s lost.”
The woman behind the glass panel says, “Sure, if you want.” The look on her face tells me that I might miss my turn with the person who takes blood. But I think she also understands that, at this point, I don’t care about that.
I find the old man near his car and tap him lightly on the shoulder. I see his face clearly for the first time. His light blue eyes are moist, with red eyelids overturned slightly more on the bottom than the top. His skin is pale, wrinkled, with brown spots and ruddy cheeks.
I point confidently. “Oh see, we are right here on the road you’ll need to take. This is Southern Ave.” He looks down at the yellow piece of paper with that word on it.
“Oh yes, Southern Ave.”
“Now you want to go east.” I point what direction is east. “Then when you reach the corner of Dobson and Southern, you’ll turn left.” I bend my hand pointing left. “It won’t be hard at all. Simon Med is right on the northeast corner.”
“What is the place called?” He tries to read my lips and seems as if he has never heard these words despite the directions given at Lab Corp.
“Simon Med.” I smile, encouraging that he can do it easily.
“Oh, I am sorry. I am not very good at this. What is it called?”
I repeat, stressing each syllable, “Simon Med.”
He still doesn’t understand what I am saying. He looks down at the printed words and reads aloud, “Simon Med.”
He leans towards me as if he is confiding a secret and says again, “I am not very good at this.”
His mind can’t comprehend what is being said, where he is, or where he is heading. But with any hint of understanding or compassion shown him, such gratitude results that he gushes with appreciation.
Reluctantly I turn away, saying, “I have to go now and get my blood drawn.”
When I return to the lab and go to sit down, the person who draws the blood immediately waves her hand for me to follow her into the cubicle. The blood draw is over quickly, but before beginning the walk home, I stop in at my primary care physician’s office to make an appointment in person, having been unsuccessful in doing so by phone.
Afterwards, I continue my walk home. But when I reach the corner of Dobson and Southern, I feel torn in opposite directions, literally. I want to continue walking homeward, since I haven’t eaten breakfast and it is already 11 a.m. I’m extremely hungry and have a long walk ahead of me. Yet I feel this pull to see if the old man has made it to his destination.
I pass the mall sign listing the businesses that occupy this address. Compared to the other bold typefaces, Simon Med is a thinner font size. I wonder how anyone can ever find this place. As I approach the brick building, I notice that the extra-large street numbers “1111” are completely hidden by a thick Palo Verde tree. Certainly, the old man will not be able to discern while driving on a busy street what I can barely see while slowly walking.
When I arrive, I enter the building. The old man is not in the waiting room. I leave without asking if an elderly man has come and gone already. I exit the door and start again the walk home, but something makes me turn around and check the other side of the building.
I doubt if he’ll be here since more than a couple of hours has passed since I left him at the parking lot at Lab Corp and it is only a ten-minute drive to here. When I turn the corner, I am very surprised to find the old man, still with his piece of paper in hand, discussing with a younger man—another “stranger”—how to get to Simon Med.
As I approach the two men, I hear the younger man say, “It’s right here.” He points to the building adjacent to where they are standing. But the old man is confused still.
The young man acknowledges me, seeming to recognize that I already know something of the situation. Perhaps my smile clues him in on this fact. He explains, “He got lost. I met him all the way on Broadway and I escorted him here. He followed me in his car.”
Turning around to see to whom the young man is talking, the older man breaks out into a big smile. He recognizes me and confides, as if to an old friend, “This has been a zoo. This man is very kind though.”
The young man repeats, “He was all the way to Broadway and he followed me here.” He seems unsure why successfully getting the old man to his destination has not resulted in a happy conclusion. Obviously gentle, generous, and patient, he has no more time to spare.
The old man now turns to me, saying, “I know you so I’ll follow you.”
With a slightly trembling hand, he reaches for the door handle of his car. He pauses, as if he is not sure this is actually his car. After all his hours of being lost, he still thinks he’s in the wrong place.
“We don’t have to go anywhere else,” I say. “This is the right place.”
“Yes, let me walk you into the waiting room.”
As we walk around the corner, we find the darkened doorway with a wheelchair ramp. “I have been looking for such a long time,” he says. “I am finally here.”
I accompany him to the front desk. “Please help this man. He has been trying to get here for a couple of hours and needs your assistance.”
As if these words landed miraculously upon someone’s ear in a nearby room, a young blonde-haired woman suddenly arrives to offer help—just in time, so we don’t waste any more of it. “I’ll take that.” She disappears into her office with the old man’s papers in hand, as quickly as she appears.
As we wait, our mission accomplished, he asks the male receptionist, “Is there a bathroom here?”
The receptionist points to a door. I follow the old man to make sure he can find it. Though there is a unisex bathroom sign, he doesn’t think this is the right room. So he opts to head in the wrong direction.
“No, this is the room.” I point to it explicitly.
“Really?” He doesn’t recognize the complicated symbols.
I return to the front desk and discuss with the office staff how, when I leave, the old man will need all their help. They agree. One of the receptionists asks, “Is he driving like this?”
I nod yes. We are both concerned.
After finding his way back to the waiting room, the old man says, “Well, I got here, but how do I get home?”
I ask, “What is your home address?”
“That’s a good question.”
He looks in his wallet. I ask, “Do you have a license? Your address should be on it.”
He finds his license and reads out the words as if he has never heard them before this moment. I look and find that he lives on Southern Ave., so it should not be too hard to find.
The helpful blonde-haired woman then comes out of her office and explains that there will unfortunately be a very long wait before he can be seen today. Since the procedure itself will take two hours, she advises him to reschedule his appointment for tomorrow.
I tell her, “But it took so long for him to get here.”
The woman reasons with the old man and, despite the great effort to get here today, he finds waiting intolerable and agrees. “Okay, make an appointment for me.”
“I’ll write the exact directions of how to get home now and how to return tomorrow.” She must have overheard our private discussion about him not knowing his own address.
I think to myself, he’ll be unable to follow these directions no matter how explicit. I ask him in a low voice, “Is there anyone that you can call to help you at home?”
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he seems to expect—though he doesn’t ask—for some further help from me, that I could somehow drive and he could follow me in his car just as he had with the generous man who led him here. He doesn’t understand I am walking.
I have reached my limit. I take my leave, saying, “Good luck.”
He turns around, his face revealing that he is frightened by the prospect of what he is about to do on his own. Mouthing the words, barely audible, he says, “Thank you so much.”
Afterward, I kept thinking of the old man and wondered if he arrived the next day for his appointment. I thought about how, although he was confused and bewildered, there was something in his stature that said he was a man of distinction at one time. I had the sense that he may have been in the military. And yet he was not regretting his loss. In his face, he was just showing, “Yeah, this is just the way it is now.” But not with any shame. And not with any anger at anyone else for his not understanding. Just kindness. And grace.
Later that same week, I had an experience that deepened my appreciation for him, and for the opportunity to help him. I surprisingly found myself in a situation that left me feeling confused and bewildered myself, and in need of the gracious help of someone else.
While making a purchase at the grocery store, I found that I had forgotten to list five deductions in my checking account and my balance was zero dollars. I discovered this embarrassing fact at the automatic checkout, which would only cover part of my purchase. A young grocery clerk patiently and respectfully tried to explain the probable cause, honoring me regardless of my confused and agitated state. I was bewildered, thinking I had plenty of cash. And I was stunned that I had made this mistake, as if my whole perception of myself—as someone who is always on top of things and writes everything down and can do things in a capable way—was shaken.
It made me wonder if life will become ever more confusing as the years pass and I grow older. And if so, will I be able to respond to the help of others as graciously as the old man had, and with the same genuine gratitude?
Reflecting on these experiences, it seems to me that Jesus is answering my prayers by using everything in my life as a teaching moment. Everything is there to illustrate kindness and compassion: Noticing others’ almost angelic kindness to a stranger. Feeling gratitude for the helpers. Feeling compelled to offer help myself, and setting aside my own needs, at least for a little while, to follow that impulse.
That is what it means to have an alive relationship with Jesus. And I’m grateful.