Face of Kindness Takes Many Forms

I was walking down the street with my 4-year-old son this fall when we came upon a young woman with a heavy limp using a cane.

As we approached her from behind, I could see his interest piqued and braced myself for whatever was about to come out of his mouth. I silently prayed that whatever he said would be too quiet for her to hear.

Nope. In full preschool buoyancy, he loudly proclaimed, “Mom! That lady walks funny.” I wanted to crawl into a hole when she turned around. Until she smiled.

That young woman gave us the most beautiful smile and then said to my son, “Yep, it looks pretty silly when I walk. And I’m not very fast. I have a disease that makes it hard to use my legs.”

We went on to have a brief but sweet conversation, and I left feeling so grateful for so many things, including her willingness to talk about the differences my son so obviously questioned.

A Minnesota woman who now lives in Colorado shared an experience she recently had in which kindness not only paved the way over awkwardness, but gave her a new friend.

“Traffic was backed up because of a tiny old lady, gingerly walking through the slush and ice, trying to cross the entrance of a parking lot. She was wearing a long blue jacket, thick mittens and good, heavy boots. She also had a paper mask covering her face.

“I pulled over and got out to help her navigate the sidewalk. I asked where she was going and if I could give her a ride. She was a little winded but managed to say, ‘Light rail, train, train,’ which is about a mile down the street.

“After helping her climb into the van and buckling her in, she started thanking me profusely. She explained that she had missed the bus because her leg is sore from a skin graft. She isn’t able to lift her leg high enough over the snow banks, and she is very afraid of slipping on the ice and breaking bones.

“She needed to go to the grocery store, so I told her I would go in with her, help her with her groceries and give her a ride home.

“Her name is Joan, and she is 82 years old. While I was helping her double-bag her four bundles of organic bananas, I couldn’t help but notice the actions of the shoppers around us.

“Joan carried on as if not noticing the staring children, the avoiding glances, the startled reactions. You see, Joan doesn’t have a face. She has piercing blue eyes looking out over a big rectangular skin graft covering where her nose, cheekbones, upper lip and upper teeth used to be. And she breathes through a tracheostomy tube.

“Bananas were the only things she needed, as they purée so well. She only eats what she can purée in her blender.

“On the way home, she told me how she had lost her face to ‘the mildest form’ of melanoma. She was originally diagnosed with it in 1965.

“When she was a young lady, she had gone to a dermatologist for her severely oily skin. Back then, they told her to sit in the sun to help dry her skin out. They also gave her sunlamp treatments, unaware that those were the worst things to do.

“Joan said she hopes there are no more recurrences because, she said, there isn’t much more left of her face that they can take.

“But then she said, ‘I am just so thankful to God that I am still alive.’

“When we got to her apartment, I carried her heavy bundles of bananas and walked her to her door. I wrote down my number and told her to call whenever she needed a ride or found herself in a pinch.

“I gave Joan a hug and went home.

“This remarkable moment in my life took about an hour to unfold. I am replaying it over and over again. I want to be sure to not miss any part of what I need to learn from this experience.” – Marcy Bernier Corbitt

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday.

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