30 January 2014

Kindness tells a story

I believe stories can change the world. I posted this quote that captures that very idea a few days ago on a Facebook page on writing I administer. It's been whispering in my ear ever since, so I posted it again here:

You won't find the word kindness in it, no matter how many times you read it over, because the kindness is in the story that follows, a story about a kindess that changed my world. The universe, in its puzzling wisdom even gave me a nudge to write this Wednesday morning, when one of our neighbors, an elderly woman, slipped on ice and fell out by our mailboxes. You see, a similar thing happened to me once.

My husband and I couldn't see exactly what happened from our window, but he saw a lady across the street, still in her bathrobe, run this way, followed by her husband driving a pickup truck. Another vehicle later pulled into the neighbor's garage. A firetruck and ambulance arrived soon after, and from another window he saw our neighbor sitting in her garage with a blanket around her. The EMTs removed her shoe, splinted her ankle, loaded her into the ambulance and left.

It's 14 degrees F. as I write this--warmer than Tuesday but still plenty nippy. Thank goodness there were people who DID see what happened and responded quickly to help someone they likely didn't know, given that the lady in question is somewhat reclusive.

When something similar happened to me, I had youth on my side. I was 27, an unmarried teacher living in an apartment complex in New Castle, Ind., my parents 55 miles away on the south side of Indianapolis. I was adviser for the high school newspaper, and I was off to work early that day. The school newspapers had come from the printer on a bus the evening before and were in the trunk of my car. My student staff was to meet me at the school so we could count out papers for distribution through homerooms. 

I don't remember snow on the ground, but it was January and it was cold--just like now. My car was parked outside, so I started it first to let it warm up, then went to the trunk either to get something out or put something in. My foot slipped on some black ice and I slid under the car, the exhaust pipe spewing carbon monoxide inches from my face. I mustered all my courage and crawled out from under the car, around its side, and up onto a grassy area.

I was thinking, but not all that clearly, and crawled to the side where I was least likely to be seen by other tenants. But someone did finally find me (thanks to my cries for help), knocked on the door of another neighbor, who called the ambulance and my parents. The two men tried to help me up and out of the cold while we waited, but the pain and nausea were too much; I knew I'd broken something. 

The break required surgery, and I was off work for about two weeks, staying with my parents. When I finally went back to work, I couldn't have made it without the kindness of one of my students--a young woman on the school newspaper staff who delivered regular newspapers in my apartment complex. I can't remember now whether she delivered papers mornings or evenings or both, but for two months she worked around her part-time job so she could help me. She came to my apartment each weekday morning, helped me into my car, drove it to school and parked it, then helped me into the school. At the end of each day, she helped me back home.

If I remember correctly, one day when it snowed and the maintenance guy refused to shovel the walks and steps so I could get safely from my apartment to my car on crutches, she even took care of that. He was "kind" enough to lend her the shovel.

I always found it puzzling that none of my coworkers asked if I needed anything or if they could help. Afterward, one told me they assumed my parents were taking care of me. On the weekends, yes. My parents drove out every Friday evening and took me back to Indianapolis, then every Sunday evening they drove me back to New Castle. Both my parents still had jobs, and during the week they worked too. 

It was my student, Sarah, who kept me going in-between, and I don't know what I would have done without her. I don't remember how she came to offer her services, I only know that I never had to ask. She was magically there for me.

I taught in New Castle for three years. When I left the town I left teaching for a job that paid more. Many people assume a teacher gets burned out because the students are tough to deal with, but that wasn't the case for me. The students were the best part. Many of them helped me during this time. I am still in touch with some, including Sarah, thanks to the wonders of social media.

Sarah is having a tough time right now. She deserves better than she's getting. I would like to be with her today because she needs some moral support, but I can't drive yet because of my surgery and rehab. So here's hoping she reads this early in her difficult day and it gives her the confidence she needs to speak up for herself and those she loves most. I hope that reading her own story will show her "belief's wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear's caul." 

She was my light when the world put me in a dark place, and I want to do the same for her. The kindness Sarah extended me 30 years ago--practically to the day--I will never, ever, EVER forget. All I can say to her today is...

...because that's The Real You, Sarah. Knock 'em dead.