“Wise sayings often fall on barren ground, but a kind word is never thrown away.” (Arthur Helps, British writer, 1813-75)
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” (Aesop’s Fables, 6th century B.C.)
I can remember moments of someone saying a kind word to me. And kind actions, well, they can have an even greater impact …
The days had been grey, indeed, for quite some time in the St. Louis area. As I made my 20-mile commute from home to work, all I really wanted to do was to turn around, get back into bed and pull the comforter over my head. Indefinitely.
I didn’t want to work. I didn’t want to see or hear people. I definitely didn’t want to talk with anyone.
Isolation: One of the most overwhelming symptoms of my depression when it strikes most severely. Some days I can’t get out of bed for hours, if at all. Other days are like the ones I have been enduring the last couple of months; I get out of bed after not sleeping well but press on to my job because I don’t have many paid sick days remaining. I’m fiercely holding onto my remaining vacation days for two important trips ahead and, well, I don’t have the strength to apply for unpaid leave.
So I shower, dress, drive to the office, then take the day one hour at a time. At the top of the hour, before I pray for the special intentions on my heart, I thank God for getting me through that hour and virtually beg him to be my strength for the next 60 minutes.
This day, Wednesday, theoretically was supposed to contain some relief. Hump Day, you know; halfway to the weekend, a day when we’re supposed to catch the first glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.
Alas, I saw no such flash as I merged into the highway traffic. A haze, a heavy mist obscured the lowlands just across the Missouri River. The windshield wipers on my black SUV were hard at work. Again.
It had been 51 days since Mom underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor – 47 days since she passed away. We had at least a trace amount of precipitation on 34 of those days, for a total rainfall of more than 15 ½ inches. With about 13 ½ inches in June alone, that made it the wettest month in St. Louis in nearly 69 years, or since Stan Musial was in only his fourth full season playing ball for the St. Louis Cardinals.
I usually enjoy thunderstorms. The lightning that briefly illuminates a room, the rolling thunder that rumbles for lingering seconds – something makes me feel sentimental in such moments. I delight in lying in bed in the middle of the night for that kind of entertainment.
Still, more than seven weeks of such a simple pleasure gets tiresome. Between my grief and the weather, I felt on the brink of a major depressive episode. I know all too well how one of those feels. It had been since before Christmas since I last felt this way. Although I knew this good stretch – okay, not necessarily good, but tolerable – might not last permanently, I had hopes that perhaps it would.
Instead my hopes on this Wednesday had a much different flavor. I wanted to ride out eight hours uninterrupted in my small fifth-floor cubicle, rarely having to swivel around in my chair to face someone with a question or need. My desire was to stare at my computer screen and click-click with the mouse until about 4:30 in the afternoon, with hourly three-minute pauses for prayer and brisk walks to refill my water cup.
If the phone rang I would answer it and put on my pleasant voice to help someone in need. Frankly, that’s the best part of my job: daily opportunities to help people. But on this day the fewer the rings the better.
One goal: Survival, without tears, which have been painfully absent but threatening a storm at any moment.
The day passed noon – hump hour, if you will – and I simply wanted a peek at something that hinted of an eventual end to this dank, dark tunnel. Nothing indicated that might happen. And then I heard a voice from behind me.
“Mike . . . “
Ignoring the anguish of my day, I instinctively turned around with my pleasant face and pleasant voice to see Nick. And a little girl.
I quickly remembered that it was “bring your child to work day” for my company. Nick works in the same division as me, though on the sixth floor. His wife, Michelle, with great patience and skill trained me in my job when I entered the department more than seven years ago. She then left to be a stay-at-home mom to her first and then second child. I kept abreast of the Ferrantos’ lives through occasional emails from Michelle and chats with Nick.
A few years ago Michelle had excitedly told me about how they had both their children baptized as Catholic and that, at about the same time, she and Nick entered the Church on Holy Saturday. In a humbling moment for me, she shared that my faith example had been instrumental in reaching that decision for the entire family.
“Mike,” said Nick, looking at the little girl, “this is my daughter Rachel.”
I smiled at the six-year-old girl, whose face immediately impressed me as bearing a striking resemblance to Michelle, and I reached out toward her with my right hand. “Go ahead and shake his hand,” Nick told Rachel, who timidly held out her left hand. I lightly grasped her tiny fingers. I didn’t notice that she withheld her right hand because she was holding something.
During the next couple of minutes, I awkwardly asked Rachel a few questions. Shyly, she responded to each query with a glance at Nick, who then answered me. I didn’t stop smiling. I had started to enjoy the company.
“Mike, Rachel made a couple of things for you,” Nick said.
That’s when I finally noticed what was in her right hand. She held them out to me: A flat diamond made of popsicle sticks wound with black-and-white yarn and another single popsicle stick wrapped from one tip to the other with more black-and-white yarn.
“It’s an ornament and a bookmark,” Rachel said in a small voice, just a bit louder than a whisper. I took them from her and thanked her with genuine exuberance. Pointing to a lone piece of black yarn that trailed off the diamond like the tail of a kite, she said, “If you tie this end to this place, you can hang it off your Christmas tree.”
“She made these just for you,” Nick said. Apparently Nick and Michelle had mentioned me to her for some reason. “She said she wanted to meet Mr. Mike.”
Deeply moved by such undeserved kindness, I looked back at the little girl with the innocent eyes and thanked her. “I definitely will put this on my tree,” I told her, “and I’m going to use this in my favorite book.” I couldn’t find any more words.
That’s when Nick told her they should let me get back to work. “Say good-bye,” he urged her. She gave me a small wave, turned and walked away with her daddy. I said good-bye, thanked her and Nick once more, and turned back toward my desk.
Everything looked different from a few minutes earlier. Some of the gloom had dissipated. I had an encounter with a sweet angel, a simple little girl who had reached out to me in an intentional and not random act of kindness.
I had been praying for a truly luminous flash of lightning that dispelled my sadness, and my prayer was answered: I had met Rachel.
The ornament? It’s on my dresser, where I will see it every morning and every night. And the bookmark? It marks a most important place in my favorite book: The Bible, Psalm 27, verse 8:
“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”; your face, LORD, do I seek!
The light at the end of the tunnel.