When the world is closing in on you, and panic and uncertainty threaten to swallow you whole, kindness takes on a new level of importance. An otherwise small gesture of love becomes magnified and gives us the strength to put one foot in front of the other.
Zach Wilson sent me this letter from a friend who found kindness at the end of the rope.
“I was driving to pick up a graduate student from China at a local airport, and all the while I thought I might be dying. It was ironic, because I had never smoked and had lived a healthy life, but I was going to be tested for lung cancer that afternoon. After years of chest pain, I was worried. Ironic things can still kill you. The chances of survival from lung cancer are not good, and I had a family to take care of.
“So I was quite distracted, and not my usual self, when I realized my car was running out of gas. And then the second awareness hit: I had no money. I might be late to pick up the graduate student, after planning the trip for months, because I had no money. No cash, no debit card, no credit card, no checks.
“Figuring that I might be able to at least use the number of my debit card to access my bank account, I went into a gas station. No luck. I tried a clerk in a bank, inside a nearby supermarket. Nothing doing. I asked the bank manager. He, too, said there was no way to make it happen. But, just when I was about to ask where the nearest branch of my bank was, he opened his wallet and asked me how much money I needed.
“I told the man that I thought $5 would get me to the airport. As he handed it to me, I was overcome with emotion. I blurted out my thanks with a half-sob, and left, only to find that I couldn’t figure out where I had parked the car. Glancing around, I saw the manager had followed me out of the store, and was looking at me with concern.
“Sometimes, thoughts just flit through your mind. For a second, I wondered if he was going to call the police because I was acting so strangely. I had a sense of urgency about not wandering around. So I pulled myself together long enough to find my car and climb inside. The manager, apparently satisfied that I was safe, went back in the store.
“I remember being so relieved when I got into the car. But, at the same time, I was thinking, ‘You still have to get to the airport.’
“I started driving again. At some point, I realized $5 would get me there, but it wasn’t going to bring me back. Whatever. I would have to deal with that when I got there.
“I arrived on time in spite of everything, and asked the visiting student, a little embarrassed, if she had any American money. Luckily, she did, and I borrowed a few dollars to buy gas for the rest of the trip.
“That evening I got a call with the results from the CT scan. I did not have lung cancer! Good news, but the bad news was that they still didn’t know what was going on with my lungs. I stayed busy with my kids, work and medical tests. There was plenty to do. Many weeks later, the doctors discovered that I had a very rare form of a different kind of cancer.
“Five and a half rounds of chemo and six difficult months later, the cancer is gone; the graduate student returned to China after an internship in the states; and I anonymously sent the bank manager $20 in return for his trouble. I hope he knows how much his kindness meant to me.
“That whole time was a difficult one, but it taught me to appreciate whatever kindness I can find, to keep going, and try to remember where I parked my car.”
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.