Some of you may have heard about my family’s recent run in with an horrendous stomach bug. We were on Gulang Yu when my brother came down with it first. He was so sick we thought it was food poisoning. When I came down with it the next night we realised it must be a stomach bug. The following night my father endured its horrors. Thankfully we were able to shield my grandmother and mother from its worst effects. I will spare you most of the icky details. I mention it for one purpose – to tell you of an amazingly kind act.
On the night of the 14th I went through 7 hours of hell. During that time, I discovered I am an epically loud vomiter. Mum later said it sounded like I was in labour. My brother says it’s the sound a person makes when they are very scared and gripped by despair, willing the ordeal to be over. He made the same sound, and the next night my father would experience it too. However, at that point in time my father had never vomited in his life. He had no idea what it felt like. All he knew was his little girl was suffering. And so he walked into the bathroom, held me close and stroked my head. While I made all manner of noises, he just held me.
Both of us agree that it is something we would be very happy never to experience again, nevertheless I will treasure that memory and his kindness for as long as I live. Why? Because even though he had at that point never experienced what I was going through, he took the initiative to do the one thing he could think of to help – even though it meant personal discomfort. (I have since discussed this event with him in the context of creative thought, and he said he was definitely using his imagination at the time – imagining himself anywhere in the world but there. Still, that’s using Creativity, right?)
How do you feel when you see someone suffering? Naturally we all want to help. Even when words fail us, we still have the overwhelming urge. Our empathy kicks into gear and we start looking for ways to help.
A magazine I read once about helping people who have lost a loved one in death mentioned that we all say, “If there is anything you need, just let me know.” While we sincerely mean that we would do anything to help, we leave it up to the bereaved person to decide how we can help. The problem is, usually the person is so distraught or anxious not to put others out that they never take you up on the offer. Think about it. When was the last time someone rang you up and said, “I really need you to cook me a meal,” or “Could you help me with some cleaning”? Most times people who are grieving, or sick, or dealing with other emotional trauma don’t really know what they need.
At times like this, a little creative thought and initiative are called for. For instance, instead of saying, “Perhaps I can help out with a little housework sometime,” why not say, “I’ll do some vacuuming for you. How does Tuesday morning sound?” Or even better, why not just start vacuuming, or ironing, or washing? Perhaps bake a cake or a casserole and take it around. Use your Creativity to find a need and fill it, especially if all the obvious ones are taken.
Of course, we wouldn’t want to impose our presence and our help where it is not needed or wanted, but often you’ll find a little bit of friendly initiative is very welcome. In fact, very simple and seemingly insignificant acts on our part take on far greater meaning to someone who is suffering.
The Act of Being There
The opportunity for expressing kindness doesn’t necessarily stop a couple of weeks after a traumatic event. Sometimes the person’s physical and emotional pain continues on for months or years. Anniversaries of the event or other times that may cause painful memories to resurface are opportunities for you to show care and understanding to the person. Perhaps if your friend has lost a spouse, why not drop by on their wedding anniversary and offer a listening ear? Be there to reminisce, or distract if necessary. Show that you recognise the significance of the day and the pain they may be feeling.
While we ourselves may never have experienced the circumstance our friend is going through, and we would want to avoid saying, “I know exactly how you feel,” imagining what is involved in their situation can provide us with greater understanding. This understanding can lead to kindness and helpfulness in uniquely creative ways.
Often those acts of kindness hold a special place in the hearts of our friends and family.
Have you ever experienced someone’s creative kindness?
Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art
April 28, 2010 at 9:32 am
Wow Jessica – what a great dad you have! And I hate to hear that you all had that bug so far from home, yuck.
I love your idea of creative kindness. You don’t need to be bound by formal, organized efforts or by traditional expectations. You can just do what comes to mind at the time. I have seen people buy sandwiches or coffee for homeless men and women sitting outside in the cold, I love that.
April 28, 2010 at 10:51 am
What a great Dad you have, Jessica! I’m working with a woman on a book about when her husband died from a brain tumor. It was about 13 months from diagnosis to death and she said that so many people said, “If you need anything, just call.” But the people who were the most helpful were those who didn’t ask, but just brought food. Or took the kids. Or whatever. I took this to heart last weekend and cooked a meal for my friend who just lost his father. I am usually afraid to step up like this. Weird, huh? Afraid to be kind? Anyway, I hope that your stomach has settled down. Sounds brutal.
April 29, 2010 at 8:55 am
I’ve managed to sneak into my website for a quick comment.
Ami – Absolutely. Traditional expectations often hold us back.
Interesting that you mention homeless people. In China I often encounter beggars who latch on to me because I am white. Usually I have a piece of fruit in my bag and offer it to them. If they take it, I know they are genuinely hungry. If they keep on about the money, then I just keep walking.
When we were in Gulang Yu, I saw a man who walked with a crutch. He held is hand out to everyone he passed, asking for money. Most people ignored him. I noticed he had crumpled plastic bottles tucked into the V of his crutch, collecting them for the recycling refund. I went back to our hotel room and found all our empty water bottles (of which there were a surprising amount). I walked until I found him again and handed him the bottles. To my surprise he humbly took the bottles, thanking me for each one, and didn’t mention money at all. After that, every time I went for a walk I would take a plastic bag of empty bottles to give to him if I saw him. His humble thanks each time never ceased to amaze me.
Charlotte – What an interesting book! Thank you for sharing that real life example.
I think we often hesitate to step up and take the initiative because we don’t want to impose on the person. We fear the rejection or the forced smile. If we can muscle past that reflex, then whole new ideas occur to us.
I’m sure your friend greatly appreciated the meal you cooked, and I bet you felt good afterwards too.
May 5, 2010 at 11:20 am
After having my daughter and heading into the downward spiral of post-natal depression a friend came over and cleaned my bathroom and toilets. I can’t tell you how much better those shining taps made me feel.
Then later when hospitalized another friend brought me gluten-free dairy-free custard and some writing books. Nothing expresses the warmth in my heart at the remembrance of such small kindnesses.
In turn I try to keep my eyes open for ways to do to others as has been done to me.
It is such a relief when you don’t have to ask for help.
May 7, 2010 at 4:29 pm
Having been on the receiving end of your custard after a hospital visit of my own, I can relate to the warm fuzzy feeling. 😉