A big, tough-looking man wearing a tank top and baseball cap took hold of the door at the Circle K that my shorter-than-he-ever-used-to-be husband was trying to push open.
The man stood aside, gesturing with a chin up nod that my husband should go on through.
That night I was sitting on the edge of the bed in our bedroom, when my husband came in. I could tell from the expression on his face that something was wrong.
“The hardest thing about this Parkinson’s thing is the pity,” he said.
“The pity people give me. I see it in their eyes. When somebody helps me with a door they have that look—the look of pity.”
I had never seen pity in people’s eyes and told him that I thought maybe he was misunderstanding things.
Having always been a healthy, capable man—he’d never been in a position in which he needed help or one in which people could see that he needed it.
Maybe he was misreading the look in people’s eyes. Maybe he was confusing pity with love.
Not the kind of love that people who know each other give each other, not the kind with roles, expectations, attachments and stories attached, but the kind that strangers give to each other—the free, no strings, brief, but-nonetheless-love, kind of love.
The kind of love called kindness.
I suggested that he might consider that he was the one that turning all that kindness pity, because he was the one who was seeing it that way.
Slowly, in his soft Texas way of speaking, he retorted,
“If I look at it at it that way—why, I’d literally be surrounded by kindness.
It has always been my belief that if you offer people something tender and real, they will respond in kind—from their best selves. If they see that you are truly in need, they will give what they can and do what they can.
Over time, I saw that my husband—with his frailness and trembling—called forth this stranger-love, this “kindness” from many people.
Again and again, I saw waiters help him on with his jacket or hold a chair and wait until he got settled. I saw store clerks carry a single grocery bag out to the car and I saw massage therapists button his shirts for him while the next appointment waited.
Since we had that Circle K conversation on the edge of the bed about kindness versus pity—I saw how my husband had changed.
Since he had let people respond to him from their best selves. I saw him accept kindness.
I thought that as he allowed others to help him—allowed the neighbor to bring in the trash cans, allowed the bus driver to count out his change for him, allowed somebody else to cut up the wood we needed for the fireplace that winter—it quite possibly helped them as well.
Certainly I saw my husband’s change in attitude about such a simple thing as someone holding the door to the Circle K open for him, change the very world he lived in.
When he let it happen—when he didn’t see pity but saw kindness instead—everywhere he went, he was surrounded by it.
In fact, when each of us allows ourselves to see it that way, we are all living in a world surrounded by kindness.
(This article originally appeared in a different form under a different title in ElephantJournal.com)
Author Bio: Carmelene Melanie Siani
Carmelene writes stories from every day life and how life itself offers lessons to help us grow, expand, and put our feet on higher ground.