I’m a writer with ruts. One of those ruts is that I often go to the public library on Saturday afternoons to find myself a nice spot that looks out the bank of windows on a panoramic view of the Front Range of the Rockies.
A recent Saturday was an ordinary Saturday, and I was at the library cranking out words and occasionally raising my eyes to the view for relief or inspiration.
“Help!” A woman’s voice behind me broke the library silence.
She was in a wheelchair, parked in a sunny spot, with a magazine in her lap. Now I remembered seeing her in my peripheral vision a few minutes earlier. A man wheeled her past me while I was focused on my laptop screen. Slumped in the chair, she seemed asleep. He left her in a comfortable spot right next to the window with its view, probably betting that she wouldn’t notice if he left briefly but putting a magazine in her lap just in case.
Well, she did wake up, and the magazine was not much of a distraction.
“Help!” The cry kept coming.
All of us studying or working that quiet part of the library could see she was safe—just alone. Someone got up to see what she needed and then went to look for the man, her husband, who had wheeled her in.
I went over and asked her husband’s name. He was Wendell.
“Would it be all right if I wait with you for Wendell?” I asked.
She nodded, and I took her hand. It turned out she couldn’t really see the magazine very well, but it was a Martha Stewart magazine and we chatted about how she used to like to decorate rooms. I spoke straight into her ear. She answered questions and was calm if someone was with her. Someone else hovered in case there was something she could do. Another paced a bit, keeping an eye out for Wendell. Half a dozen people stepped into that moment.
Soon enough Wendell came back with a book in his hands. He sat beside her to read, and she returned to a slumped sleep. His presence is all she needed to return to feeling safe. The whole interlude took just a few minutes.
I thought of my own mother, who recently turned 90 but has dementia and just moved into a Memory Care setting and how much I appreciate small kindnesses offered to her. I thought of how she would feel if she couldn’t see well or hear well and woke up alone in a place she didn’t remember getting to. And although I don’t care for my mother daily at home (we live 1,000 miles apart), I watched her for years caring for my dad during his own dementia decline and death.
I can imagine what Wendell is up against. How he thought the day was pretty and getting out of the house might be nice for both of them. How much effort it took to take her out of the house. How he wished he had something new to read. How he thought just five minutes, just five minutes, just five minutes in the shelves at the library would give him respite. I had the feeling cries of “Help!” punctuate his day even if he just steps into the next room at home.
Even in the library, where everyone is supposed to be quiet and mind their own business, life enters—on wheels sometimes. We are in this thing called life together—the easy parts, and the hard parts, the joyous parts, and the parts where we search harder and deeper for the holy moments among us. We need to see each other, touch each other, hear each other. Sit with each other.
It comes down to this: kindness matters. I pray you have an encounter with kindness today, whether on the giving or receiving end. Pass it on