I remember one man’s actions so well.
I used to travel a ton for work. So, it was not surprising when I look back on it now that I happened to be in an airport when I got the phone call with the news that my dad had prostate cancer. I can’t remember which airport I was on a layover in, and I can’t remember the details of the phone call. What I DO remember is wandering aimlessly around the airport crying after hearing about the cancer.
And I remember a man coming up to me. He was a fellow business traveler, in a suit if I recall. And he asked if I was ok, and if there was anything he could do. I blurted out, with tears rolling down my face, that I just learned that my dad had cancer. “What kind of cancer?” he asked gently. I explained it was prostate cancer, and he was so sweet to me. He calmly explained that if my dad had to get cancer, any kind of cancer, prostate was the best he could get. It was the slowest growing and very treatable. He didn’t talk down to me, didn’t “mansplain” it to me, he just reassured me.
I can’t remember what he looked like, I never learned his name, but I certainly remember his actions.
I wrote in this project about a kind stranger being in the right place at the right time when my sister got the news that she had breast cancer. The stranger’s name was Heather, and she embraced my sister and let her cry after the doctor broke the news to her on the phone. Our family still calls Heather “Angel” when we talk about that day.
So tonight, when I was walking on the beach, when I came across a woman crying I knew it was my turn to be the hugger, the reassuring voice.
“Maam, are you ok?” I asked the woman who looked around my age. She kept walking. I wasn’t sure if she didn’t hear me because of the strong wind blowing due to the big storm rolling in, or if she heard me but didn’t want to connect. I followed her a step or two and moved in closer to make sure she could hear, “Maam, are you alright?”.
And she turned to me, tears in her eyes and her face showing so much pain. She didn’t speak, but I just took her gently and hugged her. I held her tight, and she cried and cried. She put her head on my shoulder and sobbed.
|Tonight's wavy, windy, peaceful beach|
“I am sorry you feel so bad,” I heard myself say. I was genuinely sorry, but the words could do nothing to help her feel better. I rocked her a bit side to side, the two of us just standing on the shore with the wind all around us. I rubbed her arms.
Finally, she could calm down and breathe a bit. She explained that the man she was with, the one that she thought was the right fit – who had introduced her to all his friends and spent so much time with her – had just said he didn’t want to be with her anymore.
In times like that there is not much to say. So, I just held her. When she calmed down a bit she was embarrassed, saying she must look like a blubbering fool. “Hey, I have been there! And if you want to cry or scream, the beach is the perfect spot to do it”. I rubbed her arms and hugged her a bit more.
After a few minutes she thanked me, and we each walked on in different directions.
I didn’t help solve her problem, but I gave her my shoulder to cry on. I am glad to be able to pass the kindness on that the man in the airport gave to me, and that “Angel” gave to my sister.
If you see a person in need, stop. It is not a comfortable thing for many people, and it might be easier to pretend you didn’t notice and walk on. But if the person you hug is anything like me, they will remember your kindness for the rest of their life.
|Beach walk selfie. THANKS, man in the airport. You listened, calmed me down, and reassured me. |
And hey - you were right! My dad WAS ok after that diagnosis.