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Kindness Matters

Two years ago today, I was wheeled into an operating room for debulking surgery. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means removing as much of the cancerous tissue and tumor as possible. I needed nine weeks of chemotherapy before my doctor would even attempt mine. I tend to do things on a grand scale, even cancer. I will spare you the details, but when they finished, I was pretty much like a fishbowl in the abdominal area. It is an interesting bit of imagery, right? But that’s not the point here. It is an anniversary, one of many that has come with this disease. I tend to commemorate them all because doing so is a chance to celebrate life. But it is also a chance to be introspective, to think about how far I have come as I have walked this path.

Mercifully, I have outlived my original prognosis, the projected limits placed upon my existence. And I have learned some remarkable truths as well. Now, as I stare at a blank computer screen, I wonder if I have any more profound words of wisdom to share. Or do I think that all of my ideas have been used up, that anything I write now is redundant and repetitive? I wait for my muse to make an appearance. Sometimes, she is missing in action for long periods of time. Fickle girl.

But then, the doorbell rings, interrupting my concentration. It is the mail carrier with a big heavy box addressed to me. I open it and find that the inside of the box has been decorated with bright yellow paper with the words “A box full of sunshine to brighten your day.” Inside, there are yellow treats of every description, and I am like a kid on Christmas morning exploring it all, thrilled beyond words.

My heart is full of love and appreciation. You see, kindness changes things, including people. I suppose that the past two and a half years have made me aware of just how many friendly, generous, and considerate people there are in this world. I have been blessed to have been cared for by some incredibly compassionate folks and have a medical team whose warmth and concern has been as integral a part of my healing as the drugs that they dispense. I’ve had friends who have gone out of their way to keep my spirits up, visiting with me when I was lonely or sitting with me for long hours while I received chemo. I’ve had homemade soup and good books delivered to my door. My closest pals have endured hours of listening to me wallow in the self-pity, and then, patiently whisked me off for a bit of retail therapy afterwards. Yes, indeed, I have been the recipient of overwhelming kindness. And I am thankful for it.

We have been told that the fittest survive, which we tend to associate with selfishness. Society paints us with a broad brush as biologically competitive and self-indulgent. But for the most part, I have not found that to be true. I think that empathy and caring for others is a part of our DNA, that the desire to be helpful is instinctual. Witness how tenderly young children treat animals and each other, and you will see that blatant self-regard is a learned behavior, not an innate one. Noticing those around us who are suffering, celebrating another’s successes, or helping ease someone’s burden certainly makes the world a better place. But it has a personal impact as well, the boomerang effect. In fact, giving to others can often be a source of satisfaction and fulfillment. It absolutely enhances relationships and lubricates the workplace.

Today, I am certainly grateful to be the recipient of this thoughtful surprise package, which boosted my morale in countless ways. I read the enclosed card with tears in my eyes. The gift was from a former student, one whom I had taught many, many years ago. How lovely to be remembered, I thought. And then, I read the last line. “Don’t ever stop writing your blog. You continue to teach us through your words.”

Ah, that fickle muse of mine. She is often late, but today, she was right on time.

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