I’ve held the belief for a while now that if you truly want to be happy and feel fulfilled, you have to get your mind off yourself and onto the needs of others.
At least that’s my theory.
Cancer has given me a unique opportunity to test out that theory.
There have been plenty of days when I have wanted to accept the invitation to my own personal pity party. To be honest, there have been plenty of days when I have.
But not every day. Most days I fight the urge to go down that black hole using my No. 1 weapon: kindness.
I remember one day, early on in my diagnosis when I was haunted by dark feelings. I just couldn’t escape myself and my sad/angry/spiteful attitude. I was being particularly ugly to my children and my husband, who had no choice but to stand there and take it. Mom has breast cancer, after all. We wouldn’t want to upset her by gently pointing out that she is being a nasty beast.
Anyway, I was driving down a street a few miles from my home when I noticed a woman my age whom I’d seen around town. She was homeless, but living in a tent in a neighbor’s yard. I had picked her up a few times and driven her to wherever she was going.
On this particular day, she was walking along the side of the road. I pulled over and rolled down my window. “Hi! Need a ride?”
She thanked me, but declined.
My fiercely independent new friend had just gotten a job that required her to wake up at 4 a.m. so she could walk several miles to get to her job before her 6 a.m. shift started.
For several nights in a row, I had been lying in bed in the wee morning hours listening to the thunder and thinking of my friend walking in the rain.
Now, today, I was face-to-face with her and I had a choice. I could ask her what I was thinking or I could let her fend for herself.
Even in my growly mood, I chose kindness.
“Are you still walking to work? Do you need me to drive you? Or pick you up after your shift?” I asked.
“Actually, I’m saving up for a bike,” she replied.
All of a sudden, a lightbulb went on. I told her to stop by my house and pick up the extra bike that was sitting in my garage.
That evening, she shyly walked up to my house to retrieve the bicycle.
“I’ll bring it back as soon as I get paid and can get my own.”
“No,” I said. “It’s a gift. I want you to keep it.”
She stood looking at me in a state of total disbelief.
I went on to explain that I had noticed how hard she had been working to get her life back on track. I told her she was an inspiration to the people around her, including me.
She didn’t know quite what to say as I stood there desperately trying to speak life into her soul. With tears streaming down her face, she gave me a hug.
All of sudden, I didn’t have cancer. I didn’t have a black cloud hanging over my head. I didn’t have a feeling of ugliness painted like tar across my lungs.
I was light and I was free.
I had tested out my theory on kindness, and it was true. When you get out of your own head and fix your focus on the needs around you, your troubles become less troublesome.
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.