In the course of my life I’ve been the recipient of unexpected kindnesses. Life has for me as for anyone involved challenges and losses. What has brought incredible strength into my own life has been the kindness of people who have long since passed away.
I’ve been the recipient of unexpected kindnesses (often just a small gesture, or an acknowledgment of shared humanity) in my earlier years, quite aside from the story I have just recounted. Kind people, in ways big and small (the small ways also mattered hugely) have changed the trajectory of my life. They gave me strength and kept me moving forward. Small things, that come and go in a flash, can have tremendous significance depending on what is happening in a person’s life. Those people are all gone now. Gone with the passing of the years. A moment’s act of kindness, that can take a second or two, it stays with a person for life.
I don’t feel a need to go into details, at this time. Enough to say that the matter is important enough for me to sit down today and write this post.
I’m working on a writing project in which several people are looking back, writing outlines of their life stories. The project has prompted me to look in bits and pieces at the story of my own life. Much of that story is a blur; focusing on the story is not among my favourite activities. I can think of better things to do. But on occasion I ponder the past as viewed through the lens of my own life.
Not everyone in my circle of daily contacts, growing up, has been welcoming, with regard to a speech problem that I was experiencing at the time. During childhood and years that followed, I stuttered severely to the extent that at times I was speechless. Not a word could I say.
During those years, out of the blue, a few people I met affirmed my existence as a full-fledged member of the human race. The details escape me as do the details of where I was sitting, in an apartment in North York in Toronto on May 4, 1987 when I sat down to read that day’s edition of the Toronto Star. What I read as I have noted elsewhere created a situation where my life had a ‘before’ and ‘after’ attached to it. Much time had already passed. I was 41 years old at the time.
The contribution of the people who were kind to me, many decades earlier, was significant. I was at that stage the lowest of the low. Such a person as was seen in general as totally incapable. It was such a person as was at the extreme end of things. A ‘person’ is perhaps saying too much. To some, I would not have been a person at all. More like a creature, an apparition – a ghostlike image of a person – from the depths.
But this handful of people – who they were, I do not know; I only met them in passing; all I remember was the kindness I encountered in their being – said, in so many words, mainly unspoken: “We welcome you. You’re one of us. You belong here.”
I owe them thanks. Such persons speak a language that I do not understand. It’s another kind of language. I owe thanks for encountering such a language, whatever language it may be.