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; sadly, it is as timely as ever. I’ve also included one detail that I’ve never shared before; it felt too deeply personal. Yet it’s also my truth.
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.
What could I possibly say that could matter in these times? What could I offer? Then I remembered a stranger’s kindness towards me from many years ago – someone I never got to thank, but who I will never forget, only for the time he took to simply be with me.
The power of sheer kindness…
It was the summer of 1988; 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’d felt compelled 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 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 Black man I’d never seen before, fishing off a pier. He saw me as well, and smiled. It was quiet and the air felt still; 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 didn’t say anything.
“Yep. You fish?”
I don’t remember the rest of our conversation. All I know is that, bit by ugly bit, I spilled my guts. His gentle gaze, when not out toward the water, fell on me from time to time as he patiently listened.
I’ve never told the next part of this story. Why? I’m not sure. It’s felt too personal I guess. Maybe I’m afraid it’ll seem to some like it’s “made up.” – that I’d misheard. But I heard and my gut somehow understood.
As I walked back down the pier, I turned and asked his name. All he offered were two letters, whose irony or awe didn’t occur to me until weeks later.
I’ve never forgotten him.
Someone unexpected can shield you from harm…
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, or what your political views are. Your home, your city, your country can even be a place filled with vicious anger, abuse, and violence. Even death.
It can feel for some as if there is no safety. Anywhere…and indeed, for some there isn’t.
As my heart healed slowly, I kept hoping I’d see the fisherman again on the trail.. I wanted to thank him for what he’d done for me that morning.
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 quietly disappears, never expecting gratitude.
Maybe it’s not coincidence…
Maybe this stranger 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!
My book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression is available and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
And here’s another way to send me a message! You can record by clicking below and ask your question or make a comment. You’ll have 90 seconds to do so and that time goes quickly. By recording, you’re giving The SelfWork Podcast (and me) permission to use your voice on the podcast. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!
Originally published on July 16, 2016;