Kindness

I wrote this post in 2012 after reading a creative essay in a professional journal written by Dr. Scholten, entitled Kindness. This essay was especially potent because she has experienced being both the doctor who is appreciated by patients and then a patient who feels gratitude towards her doctor. So often we wish that our doctor could be in our shoes, could experience the emotional turmoil we experience, that can only be touched through kindness. Sure we need doctors that are competent and capable but there are times when these qualities don’t go far enough – we need something more. We also need kindness.

Dr. Scholten provides healthcare to refugees in Canada and she begins her story by saying that she had helped an Eritrean couple who were new refugees to Canada and facing an unplanned pregnancy. They came to her office for the last time before continuing with an obstetrician and the husband expresses his deep gratitude to her with a small speech. Obviously she had touched them deeply with her caring and help. She writes, however, that she is “embarrassed that I’m thanked for dispensing something that cost me nothing: no education, no honing of skill, no effort. I’d rather be thanked for diagnostic prowess or a deftly performed procedure.” It is clear in her statement that she underestimates the importance of her kindness and she believes technical skills and intellect are much more important. She writes that she forgets their gratitude as soon as she ushers them out. What happens next in her story, however, gives her a new perspective:

Seated in my doctor’s office, I’m in the chair tucked right next to his desk. This is the first visit that I haven’t sat casually on the exam table with my legs dangling over the side, the first time I haven’t popped in for something routine like a vaccination or contraception or a prenatal visit, where we talk shop and I ask about his daughter, a medical school classmate. This time, I’m here to follow up a disastrous ending to a second-trimester pregnancy. He knocks on the door, steps in, gives me a long, sober look as he slowly closes the door, sits down. He sits in silence. I can’t look at him. Finally I force myself to talk, exhausted, crying, despairing and he listens. He leans over his desk, arms folded on it, looking down. Eventually I look at him, at his solemn white-bearded face, and I note that he is flushed. His eyes are damp. And I realize that he is moved by my distress, and I am completely taken aback.

If we have a chronic illness or a serious diagnosis, we can understand her experience. We have sat before a doctor in all our emotional nakedness, overwhelmed by a mix of sadness, fear, shame – feeling very vulnerable and helpless. At that moment we appreciate “diagnostic prowess or a deftly performed procedure” but it isn’t all we need. At that moment what we also need, what helps us heal, what has a lasting impact on us is “kindness.”

This encounter had an impact on Dr. Scholten because she thinks about it repeatedly over the next few weeks. She continues to feel comforted by the fact that he just sat there giving her all the time she needed, that he was moved by her distress. She goes on to say, “His kindness is more dear to me than anything he’s done for our family over the years, even his delivery of my daughter.”  Dr. Scholten seems to have been humbled by her experience as a patient, recognizing that she has “been wielding something powerful without any respect for it.” This power is the impact that doctors can have on us when they allow themselves to be drawn into our emotional pain for a few minutes.

We are deeply touched when our doctor hears and understands when we are experiencing the fear that comes when our body has failed us and we don’t know how to fix it – or maybe fear that our painful, broken body will never be fixed.

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I found this post as I was reading some of my earliest post when I started my blog ten year ago. This was written when I was experiencing the fear, pain, sorrow and frustration of having fibromyalgia and struggling to regain a somewhat normal life. I was reliant on my doctor for medical help with medications and life-style advice but also for understanding and emotional support. Ten years have passed and I have learned how to manage FM, but Jim and I are now struggling with medical problems due to our aging bodies. I wrote this essay to help me better understand my experiences at the time, and it feels like I wrote it to help me express what I am needing now, ten years later, as I am dealing with aging.

I am also thinking that this isn’t just about the doctor/patient relationship but about all relationships. We need people in our lives who listen and hear us, who care. Neighbors Connie & Steve stopped to chat last night as they were doing their evening walk around the block and we were doing some work in our yard. They asked about Jim’s surgery on Wednesday and we continued to talk about health issues, ending with a laugh about how that is all we talk about when we get together with friends. Yes, we do talk about health issues because health issues are scary, and the older you get the more health issues there are. What we are looking for is kindness. The kindness that happens when people listen, understand, and care. The kindness that comes when people make themselves vulnerable before others by sharing what is making them feel vulnerable. These interactions involve needing emotional help and having others understand and respond in a way that says “I care.” What I beautiful gift we received from Connie and Steve, in our driveway as four old people chatted about life. It was a gift that made our life beautiful.


Scholtens, M. (2011). Kindness. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 467-478.

Copyright © Patricia A. Bailey and I Miss Me, Too/imissmetoo.me 2012.

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Will you join us?

Berea, Kentucky

Being vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus has opened up the world to us again, but I am finding that a whole new etiquette has emerged. We have really missed getting together with the other 5 couples for our monthly pinochle and potluck night – but not sure we are ready to meet with that many people indoors, yet. Jim and I did decide that we felt safe getting together with another couple indoors for cards, something we had started just before we left Florida.

Last week I was having an e-mail discussion with the male half of one of our pinochle club couples about birds and I asked if they would be comfortable getting together for a game of cards. We arranged for Monday night at our house. Sunday evening Jean called and said she needed to tell me what she had done over the weekend. She went to a family birthday party with all of the attendees either vaccinated or immune because they had caught the virus within the past year. Jean wanted to make sure that we still felt safe getting together with them. I was grateful that she asked – I quickly took my internal safety temperature and said I was but I would need to check with Jim. We had a great evening with each team winning half the games interspersed (or interrupted) by lots of laughter.

We also talked about whether we would be comfortable getting together with the whole club. Jean wondered if it would make it safer if we didn’t have the potluck dinner. Our discussion was more of the wondering kind than one that led to a decision or consensus. Yesterday I received an e-mail sent out by Terry, another of our pinochle club friends asking if we are vaccinated and if we would feel comfortable getting together with everyone. Jim and I will have talk that one over some more. My safety temperature is in the “caution, caution, caution” range. What is interesting is that every get-together with people we know involves asking if everyone feels safe doing it. Every time we talk, the discussion includes what we are feeling safe doing and what we are still avoiding.

Life is different now that we are vaccinated but we still spend a lot of energy calculating what we can do and what still feels too risky. We are doing more shopping in stores but that requires that we do the cost/benefit analysis of when is the best time to go into the store. We are getting together with one other couple again but not for indoor dining – although maybe we would mid-afternoon when restaurants are empty. After an outing one of us will usually ask the other if s/he felt safe. There seems to be a balance of calculating how safe an activity is and being more relaxed about the whole thing. We know we have relaxed because we frequently have to go back to car to get our mask before entering.

We are feeling an urgency to be with friends and family again, but our primary urgency is still to protect ourselves and others from taking the virus into our bodies where it can potentially mutate and become even more dangerous. I hope you are finding ways to take care of your emotional and social needs while keeping yourself and others safe.

Time Hasn’t Quite Stopped Here

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We pulled off the highway in western Montana, on our way to Glacier. I had seen some promising signs of fresh cherries and peaches along the side of the road and directions to this town with a name I don’t remember. I expected a fruit stand – but the only promising place was a general store/antique store at the end of the road in the opposite direction. We appeared to be the only ones in town, although they seemed to believe there would be more by the looks of the flags and the for sale sign.

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I kept thinking I was missing something but this is all there was, because the mountain raising up precluded any side streets. Just the highway, the mountain, and two people trying to sell something.

When I entered the store, a bell clanged loudly to announce my arrival and a woman appeared. No, she didn’t have any fresh cherries but she had fresh, pitted, frozen cherries.

“No, thank you.” It was a dark place, like the mountains and time had shut out all light entering. There was the usual merchandise a small general store would have – one or two containers of one choice of a wide variety of packaged food and toiletries. A few hardware items and some postcards. And interspersed were antiques and second-hand articles, seemingly placed where they would fit more than according to any grand plan.

I wish I hadn’t had cherries as my only goal. I wish I hadn’t been tired from hearing train horns blaring 50 yards from my bedroom for the past 4 nights. I wish we hadn’t felt the pull of having to be somewhere down the road that night and the bigger pull of starting towards home. I wish Jim hadn’t felt the misery of having a new cold set in.

I wish I would have chatted with the woman who came from somewhere in the back to help us. I wish I would have asked her questions that, even now, I can’t seem to formulate. I would have liked to know about her and the town and the other people who must live there, somewhere along the only street through town. But this is the knowledge that is gained from staying around a while, caring enough to put off doing what was already in the plans. You learn these stories by building trust that only comes from making a commitment.

A Legacy of Quilts

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The temperature had dropped and I decide to sit on my purple porch swing to finish hand-sewing the last edge of binding on the quilt I’m making for the young woman who became my granddaughter four years ago when my son married her mother. Maggie is an artists so I had her pick a pattern from a couple of books of contemporary quilts. I am excited about getting it to her because I think she will love it. The name of this pattern is ‘Birds Migrating’ and it is from the book is “Quick & Easy Quilts” by Lynne Goldsworthy.

This morning I sit long-wise on the swing and the motion of my body with each stitch (or the slight breeze making a loop through the porch) keeps the swing gently swaying. My sewing is smooth and efficient from decades of hand sewing, automatic – so I have extra brain cells for thinking.

Today my thoughts are about the quilt my cousin gave me. She found it in a closet she was cleaning and she didn’t want it – she thought it was Grandma’s quilt (passed down through her mother) and she knows that Grandma and I had a very close bond during our shared lifetimes. I smile a bit as I think of the symmetry of my motions and Grandma’s as we both work on our quilts, with over 75 years dividing us. I wish that we could sit on a summer’s day and talk and sew and talk and be together. I think she would enjoy the new techniques of rotary cutting and chain piecing. She would marvel at modern sewing machines as she never owned an electric one. And I would ask her all the questions that I have now that I am older, about the same age as she was when she died.

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I have some questions about the quilt – ones I don’t want to ask because I want it to be Grandma’s quilt. On three or four places there is a name stamped with a rubber stamp and the little letters seem to read “Taylor”, the name of my grandfather’s mother’s second husband. She died in 1939 at the age of 90, five years before I was born. I I remember family members talking about her was alive when I was very young but I don’t remember being around her; I only know her from what I overheard the grown ups say about her.

My grandfather was a very impatient, surly sort of guy, not the kind of guy a person would want to cuddle up to, or even hug. But he showed a caring for me by doing things for me or with me. When I was small, he let me ride on the tractor when he cultivated his fields and I helped him plant and harvest potatoes in the muck. He also allowed me to learn to drive on his Cub tractor – big stuff for a thirteen year old. I remember being around him in the summer when we were outdoors doing stuff, but I sat on Grandma’s lap and cuddled into her ample body as she quietly rocked me as the blown glass in the front door made the telephone pole do funny things.

The word was that Grandpa’s mother was a difficult person that people didn’t enjoy interacting with. I’ve never thought much about my lineage coming through my grandpa and his parents. I came through Grandma and her mother Grandma Carry, who lived behind them and died when I was 6.

I’m struggling to get my mind around the fact that something of importance, be it a quilt or a part of who I am as a person, may have also come through that side of my father’s family. It feels strange to me that I struggle because I also treasure the parts of me that come from my mother’s mother and her sisters. I was around my mother’s father but I know very little about him because he only spoke Polish and I don’t remember him ever trying to interact with me. I find it strange that there are people that I have included as parts of my identity and those that I have excluded.

I’m shifting, though. Grandma will always be the central character in my life story but just as I have added important characters throughout the years, I can also go back and redefine the way people from the past fit in. In my world and my story I am in charge of most of what goes on and always how I respond.

Maybe this is a lesson for all of us. Inclusion and exclusion is not cast in steel and rock. We can become more open to people who are different. We can embrace those that other’s have told us are bad. And just maybe these new people, or new understanding of who they are and how they fit into our lives, may bring us increased meaning and joy. I am growing to love my new quilt and want to know more about the woman who pieced together each half-triangle square by hand, with tiny stitches.

Circle of Friends

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This sculpture by Gary Lee Price was a part of last year’s special sculpture display at the Naples Botanical Garden and I was so excited to see it is still on display. I made several attempts to photograph its spirit last year – but deleted most of the photos. On this visit, clouds blew in as I was finishing my photography walk-about so I had ideal conditions for another try. All my previous attempts on sunny days (Florida isn’t named the Sunshine State by accident) resulted in too many highlights that Lightroom couldn’t correct enough. 

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With the currant administration’s nasty rhetoric about how dangerous immigrants are, especially those seeking asylum, this sculpture holds special meaning for me. See that spot on the bottom left where I joined in the circle – leaving enough space for you to join me._DSC0246

 

This sculpture touches my soul and represents so many of the values I have chosen to believe in and build my life upon. 

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I remember when I first experienced someone who was poor face-to-face instead of just hearing about “the poor.” I was in second grade and we were instructed to get in a circle and hold hands. The girl that was next to me, the one I would need to hold hands with, was someone who I had been only vaguely aware of – she was always on the fringes of our class. This wasn’t a “hoity-toity” private school, just a neighborhood school in a working class neighborhood but she was different somehow, maybe her clothes were a little more warn than everyone else’s or her hair never looked clean. I had to take her hand and somewhere within me I was uncomfortable even though I had never thought about her nor understood why she seemed different. Then I took her hand. Her hand was uncomfortable in my hand and I felt repulsion. Her hand was horribly dry and crusty. And in that instant I knew very deeply in my mind and heart what poor was. Poor is being different, poor is being on the margins because poor is not having enough basic needs to be able to put a decent hand forward. Poor is suffering. That was almost 70 years ago and today I am weeping because of her exclusion from our class and because she probably never had access to the simple rights and privileges I would experience.

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“I hope I can assist the world in visualizing a place where fences and boundaries, both real and imagined, are non-existent; a place where bias and prejudice are long forgotten; and finally, a place where acts of kindness, mutual respect, and love are everyday happenings.” – Gary Lee Price (obtained from his website)

I believe that this statement comes from Price’s very soul because it would be impossible to sculpt these figures to depict his message, his goal, without believing in it with all of his mind and heart. His written beliefs shine so brightly through this sculpture that they have lit my soul.

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The artist has maintained the integrity of each animal’s body but in fantasy has illuminated each creatures’ personality. The penguin has a crown and the elephant has a necklace. The fantasy within the sculpture is the depiction of human experience in these animals joined together, this circle of friends. It expresses joy and laughter and movement, the love and respect within relationship, the display of inclusion in spite of differences.

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I think I almost captured the energy this sculpture emits – the movement that can be felt. I think that when we are in troubled times, like the people of all nations and continents are currently experiencing, it is difficult to see how we will work our way out to better times. We can become de-moralized, feel helpless and incapable of making our world a better place. But we can do it, you and I.

We can embrace and shake the dry, cracked and dirty hand of a person we meet and offer some help while respecting the dignity of the person-hood we see in their eyes. Maybe instead of looking at and seeing difference in skin color, hair texture, or clothing styles we can share a space with them, looking for ways to work together, respecting all contributions. Maybe instead of hearing and being frustrated with a difficult to understand accent, we can work to find ways to listen to what is being communicated so we can find commonalities and relationship for a better outcome for all. We can admire them for being smart enough to be bilingual.

Most important, we in the U.S. can be thinking about the election coming up in less than two years. We need to get beyond the noise of empty promises and lies to understanding the candidate’s values. Do they recognize income inequality and have ideas about how to bring about wages that allow all people who work to be able to support their families without living below the poverty line? What do candidates believe are human rights – adequate education to give all people skills to earn a living and critical thinking ability to participate in our democratic system, basic health care for everyone, adequate housing, healthy food, access to infrastructure? Do they believe children should be protected and taken care of – even Black or Jewish or Muslim or Hispanic? Do they embrace “other” and “different” so that social values can continue to change to make room for people who aren’t just like us? What do they believe about our place in the world? Do they believe we should fight only for our interests or do they believe all people should have a share of the world’s resources? Does the candidate recognize the complexity of international relationships and articulate a way of relating to foreign leaders that is respectful of our rights and the rights of the people of foreign countries?

Different does not mean the same as bad, illegal, immoral, or dangerous. My challenge for the coming year is to find ways to respect different while fighting against actions that are really bad, illegal, immoral and dangerous. I need to clarify my values and work to understand whether proposed national policy is consistent with what I believe. I need to continue working to do what I can to make life better for those individual who have been denied basic needs because of their differences and political greed. And of course there is room for you to join me in creating millions of concentric and overlapping Circle(s) of Friends.

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Let’s join hands.