Each of us has a story and every story is important. Some of us share our joys as well as our heartaches. Others prefer to silently bear whatever happiness or sorrow comes their way. We never really know what those around us may be enduring unless they confide in us. We must be aware of changes in their demeanor, watching for clues that they are somehow not quite themselves to alert us that they need our compassion and support. They may not ever reveal what is bothering them, but when we can embrace them just as they are without probing into their privacy. They need not be alone.
There are almost always signals that all is not well with someone that we know. Perhaps the person will suddenly appear to be anxious or even out of sorts. They may turn down invitations and seem to pull away from friendships. They may uncharacteristically get angry without provocation. They may be slow to answer phone calls or text messages. They leave social media or conversely post angry rants or responses that leave us puzzled. They may confound us to the point of simply walking away from their toxicity.
The truth may be that they are overwhelmed by events in their lives that we know nothing about. They are coping alone with unspeakable tragedies that are killing their souls. All too often our response is to grow weary of their confusing changes in demeanor and personality. We walk away from them just when they may need us the most.
Each of us has that one wonderful person who spreads sunshine and kindness even in the darkest most hostile corners. They refuse to give up on the people they love. Without prying they simply embrace the suffering and let them know in every possible way that love is still alive. They patiently call, send quick texts, mail cards that telegraph their undying devotion. It does not take much time, but what they do means the world.
I have had friends who loved me even when I was in so much distress that I barely loved myself. I don’t think that they have ever known how much I appreciated those moments when they pulled me from the depths with a single gesture of concern. My friend Pat was masterful at sending little signals that she was around to assist if I ever needed anything. She beautifully and quietly helped one of my daughters over the grief of having a miscarriage. Her kindness to those in need was legendary and everyone who knew her misses her now that she is gone.
My friend, Linda, is another wonderful soul who seems to have the energy of six women when it comes to nurturing relationships. She has been known to cook up a storm and drive an hour across town to bring food and comfort to the sick. She somehow knows exactly what to do and say whenever I am in need in spite of her very busy schedule. I have plants that she grew for me that brightened some of my dreary days. It is as though she has some kind of extra sensory perception about people that tells her that it is time to make a call or send a card or bring a gift. She is the essence of love.
Some people have the gift of compassionate understanding. They are thoughtful even when their own lives are difficult. My mother was one of those souls. Her suffering might have been unbearable to many, but she somehow maintained an optimistic outlook and a generous heart. I know that she loved people who did not love her back. They were afraid of her mental illness and chose not to try to understand that sometimes the chemistry of her brain would cause her to appear scary. They recoiled from her even as she continued to love them. Luckily she too had incredible supporters at work, in her neighborhood and in her family. These were lovely people who saw beyond her illness and realized that underneath the haze of bipolar disorder there was a most remarkable woman.
I am constantly humbled whenever I see someone who is willing to wade into the muck for a friend or family member. I have a cousin who together with her daughter and son-in-law cared for her husband who was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. Without ever complaining the three of them lovingly adjusted their lives to demonstrate to him how much he was loved. Their devotion was unwavering and whenever I witnessed it I was moved and inspired.
Look around you. Be aware. Someone you know is angry or withdrawn for a reason. Be there for that person without prying or giving unrequested advice. Be patient with everyone and not so quick to judge. Send your love even when it is not acknowledged. You may never know how much you are brightening someone’s day. Be like Pat or Linda or my mother or my cousins. Spread your kindness without expectations of thanks. Be good because it is the right thing to do.