No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. -Aesop
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, like so many of you ( or those you love), cancer figures prominently in my life story. Specifically breast cancer, but there were also a host of other medical issues that came about as a direct result of my cancer treatment (I will share some of that in later posts). To sum it up, I became intimately acquainted with hospitals and medical professionals pretty quickly after finding that first lump and the next fifteen-month journey literally flipped my world on its head. Now heading into my 2nd year post drama, looking back on that time, I consider it a gift. For it was during those long months of struggle that I came to understand how important it is to live my life as positively as I can and to do that, I had to not only follow my doctors’ instructions for self-care, but I had to equip myself with a “Positivity Toolkit” to help me navigate my new world post cancer.
One of the first tools I added to my “Positivity Toolkit” was to practice intentional kindness.
Prior to cancer, I would say it’s a pretty fair assessment that I felt pretty adept at being kind. Kind with my family, kind with my friends, kind at work, kind at church, kind, kind, kind! Yep, kindness was a natural part of my personality and I just never questioned it as being anything I needed to work on; let alone understand that the brand of kindness I was practicing wasn’t always leaving me feeling warm and fuzzy.
In fact, looking back on my life pre-cancer, my brand of kindness actually caused me a whole lot of personal daily stress…maybe even downright misery.
Didn’t my husband know I was just being “kind” when I said that?
My employee didn’t appreciate the raise I gave them…why do I bother being kind?
I do laundry all day and all I get for my kindness is more clothes on the floor?
Yep, I was kind alright. But the kind of “kind” I was practicing had a price to pay.
I was fully expecting others to be kind back.
Well, isn’t that the way life is supposed to go? I’m kind to you, you’re kind to me? Seems logical right? And for over fifty years I lived my life with those expectations. Then during one of my hospital stays, I saw kindness modeled in an entirely different way (intentional kindness)by a graveyard shift nurse, and I began to understand the importance of making a change in my practiced brand of kindness. Let me explain.
Hospitals are scary places, period! I spent enough time in them over the past couple of years to feel pretty comfortable saying that no one goes to the hospital (except for hospital employees and volunteers) with the intent of doing anything other than getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible! My observation is that in our vulnerability, as patients who have no choice but to lie prostrate, in a hospital bed, beholden to the wims of our disease and our bodies response to the remedy, many patients feel it’s also their inalienable right to morph into Satan and unleash every obnoxious, miserable and all around crabby thing that could ever be said to anybody on the nursing staff.
Well nurses are trained caregivers, right? It’s their job to take care of us in all of our crab- fueled glory. It’s what they are paid to do!!! That being said, it was shocking to me how many people in the waiting areas, in the ER, in the bed next to mine, in the hospital rooms lining floor after floor after floor, would treat the nurses as if they were the person responsible for them being in the hospital in the first place.
“Get me my water!” “I don’t want to do what you are telling me!” “You fix me right now or I’ll do something to you!” “Who made this pudding sh**, you?” “Our family hates you!!!”
I heard all of these things and much more coming from my fellow patients and even some of their family members. Now you might be thinking , well people are hurting, a bit of nastiness is to be expected. Maybe. But what I saw and heard was this systemic spewing of “negativity” that knew no bounds. Nothing was off limits for people to say to their fellow human being, let alone their caregiver. It made me feel sad and ashamed.
“Had I ever said anything that nasty to someone trying to be kind to me?”
One particularly late night, I was attempting to sleep after back to back emergency surgeries and I could hear this man verbally tearing into a nurse down the hall.
“You get your damn behind out of my room, you witch.” “I do not want you near me!” In response I heard a very calm voice say, “Oh I’m so sorry you are hurting there sweetie..I know it’s hard. Get some rest and I’ll check on you in a bit.” Then I heard something crash…maybe a chair…I don’t know. But it was scary. I hunkered down in my bed and pulling the covers over my head a million things ran through my mind, but the biggest was: Why would anyone in their right mind become a nurse? She was just trying to be kind. She was just doing her freakin job!
Just then the door to my hospital room opened and this nurse walked in, her face lined with the years and I had no doubt it was the same nurse who the man was yelling at. I peered skeptically out at her from the safety of the covers over my head.
“Hey there sweetie”, she said very softly. ” I’m sorry. I’m sorry he’s so loud. He’s upset and hurting and well, I’m sorry. How are you doing my dear?”
“Huh, sorry?” “YOU ARE SORRY, WHY? (I think I was actually yelling at her) That guy treated you so poorly, you were just being kind to him and he treated you like crap…you deserve better!”
Taking my hand, in her careworn one, the nurse sat on the edge of my bed and said something that would change my life. She said, “Yes, I do deserve better. But I learned a long time ago that kindness is not what you get, it’s what you give.”
And there, there in that hospital room, with a crazy guy screaming down the hall, was my introduction to practicing intentional kindness. Plop…right there in my lap!
To practice intentional kindness is to give kindness freely and openly, without attaching conditions or expectations that it will be returned. Powerful stuff!!!
Wow, it’s hard to do. It really is. I stumble often. But the more I practice intentional kindness, I find that kindness is not something I need others to see in me, but something that is living and breathing in my own mirror. I no longer wear a “kindness” façade with expectations and objectives that no one can live up to. I am kind because it pleases me!
So this week, I encourage you to take a look at your own kindness meter and practice intentional kindness with me.
Together we can do this, one positive step at a time! PositivelyAnne
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All photos and images are my own, except where noted.