I originally wrote this in July of 2016 in the wake of natural disasters, shootings, and tragedies overseas. I’m offering it again to you today with a few nods to what we are going through together as the world faces this pandemic. I wish you all well.
I sat down to write early this morning, and could only think of the many tragedies, caused by humans and by nature, that have been occurring for the last few weeks and months. I felt paralyzed. These past few months, I’ve been as despairing as any about the violence in our country, and in our world. I’ve kept the families and friends of those killed in my heart and mind.
How could what I have to say matter? Then I remembered a stranger’s kindness, and I smiled.
It was the summer of 1988 and I was in the midst of getting my second divorce. Tears were running down my face, as I doggedly trudged the path around White Rock Lake in Dallas.
I’d always been an early riser but that morning, I couldn’t stand the anxious pressure that gripped my chest the moment I opened my eyes. I had had to find my shoes, and head out to the lake for a walk, although I knew that it wasn’t the safest time to be alone on the trail. Morning light was just beginning to creep over the horizon, the muggy air warming as the rising sun glittered between the leaves of the trees surrounding the lake.
My life was a mess, because I’d made it that way, and the shame I felt was immense. The failure was seemingly unbearable.
As I slowed up a bit, rounding a well-known corner of the path, I saw an older man I’d never seen before, fishing off a pier that stuck out in the water. He saw me as well, and smiled. It was so quiet you could’ve heard a pin drop, the only sounds were chirping birds and the occasional plop of a fish. For some reason I still don’t understand, I approached him.
“Hi… caught anything?”
He must’ve been able to see that I’d been crying, but he didn’t say anything.
“Yep. You fish?”
I don’t remember the rest of our conversation. All I know is that I eventually spilled my guts. And he listened. He was kind, and comforted me.
I’ve never forgotten him.
Our world is full of hate and fear. Perfect strangers harm one another. People hate you for the color of your skin, what gender you identify with or love, what or who you worship. Your home, in which you’re likely currently quarantined, can even be a place filled with vicious anger and abuse.
It can feel for some as if there is no safety. Anywhere.
Today, I remembered the fisherman. I’d searched for him on the trail a few weeks and months later, as my heart healed slowly. I wanted to thank him for what he’d done for me that morning, but sadly I never saw him again.
Sometimes, some unexpected someone can shield you from harm. Someone who doesn’t look like you, or share a similar story. Someone who arrives without fanfare and disappears, never expecting gratitude.
Maybe he stopped for you in traffic, and if he hadn’t, that truck going way too fast might’ve rolled over you instead of the curb. Maybe she saw your child running off from you in the park, and led him back to you while you were busy tending to a younger child. Maybe it’s the neighbor who offered to drop off groceries to you…or an extra pack of toilet paper they found at the store.
They didn’t care or even think about your race, creed or religion. They made a choice to be kind and to be tuned in to the needs of others around them.
These small acts of kindness never make it onto the news. Sometimes, we’re not even aware that they’ve happened. They do. All the time. Every day.
It’s not only healing to remember these small acts of grace. You can take action. You can do the same today and it can serve as an antidote to the fear or anxiety you’re experiencing. It’s how you can fight against uncertainty. It’s how you can feel empowered. It’s one thing you have control over, right now… in this moment.
Today, you can be kind, and you can remember and be ever grateful for the kindness of others.
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
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Originally published on July 16, 2016; updated and republished on April 18, 2020.