The Gift of Kindness

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Jonathan loves the pool. Jonathan does NOT love getting into the pool!  Naturally. It’s cold! Nick, who by virtue of his greater strength usually tackles (literally) this task, stays pool-side due to a bad cold.  Doubtfully, I begin the attempt. A shallow long white staircase leads down into the sparkling water, helpful for the elderly or disabled. At the risk of getting wet himself Nick manages to get Jonathan down the first few steps.  “Stay right behind him, don’t let him get past you!” Nick coaches me over the noise of the swim meet in the background. I glance to my left and flash a smile at the row of parents on the bench. We have an audience. A mom standing on the side of the pool calls out, “Matthew, jump in the pool, so he knows it’s OK!” Splash! Someone jumps in to my right.

I remark somewhat apologetically to the mom, “He loves it once he’s in, it’s just getting him there!” Her smile reassures me--no explanation needed.  All my weight leans into Jonathan’s back as he leans and pushes back with all of his. “Pry his hands off the rails!” One hand detached. “You can’t let him get his feet braced there!” Two feet braced against the side rail, knees stiff. As I reach down to free one foot, another hand grasps the rail, vise-like. Fresh realization-- my son is actually an octopus. Finally, two feet free. “Now!” Nick calls urgently from behind. I slide his feet down two more steps, woman-handle him down a few more, and we’re in!  To my left, one of the swim team Moms grins, sharing in my triumph.

Jonathan bounces high in the pool, travelling bunny-like, hop, hop to the other side, smiling. That first cold shock ancient history. As we go through our usual pool paces, I peak over at Matthew, the splasher on my right. I’m guessing that he’s special, too, like Jonathan. No wonder Mom understood. And the other Mom, well, she just got it. Two smiles. Encouragement and understanding. Truthfully, the hilarity of the moment was apparent even as it unfolded.  Dad calls out commands like the captain of a sinking ship. Mom wrestles a wriggling mass of resistance into the water. Their kindness, though, invites me to celebrate in community, rather than alone. Rather than worry about what onlookers are thinking. A gift to me, their kindness.

Scene Two. Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio.  A last minute decision to hear Stephen perform with the Cleveland Orchestra. The Messiah performance is almost sold out so Nick and I can’t sit together with Jonathan. I’m “it” for the first half of the program.  An usher helps us to our chairs on the side of the hall. Quickly, we get Jonathan settled. Nick disappears, far off to the nosebleed section of the balcony.

I have a bad feeling about this. Jonathan is already tired. I’m tired. My attitude isn’t the best. But, putting a  brave front on it, I turn to the petite, elderly lady on my left. Her soft, whispy, white hair is pulled back in a bow, her flowy dress polka-dotted. There’s something girlish about her, almost like she’s playing dress up. Can’t say for sure, but I picture her with anklets and Mary Janes. “How long have you been coming to the Cleveland Orchestra?” I inquire. “You should ask, how long have I been coming to Messiah performances,” she answers brightly. “Oh! Well, how long have you been coming to Messiah performances?” I respond obediently.  “Since I was eight, and I’m 92!” comes the proud reply.

A short conversation, the lights dim, and my anticipated concerns become reality. Not far into the Overture, Jonathan begins to squirm in his seat. I see that his pants are coming down in the back, and fear the event attempted prior to the concert is imminent. We “slip” out. I tiptoe as best as I can with high-heeled black boots on the hard floor. The same friendly usher escorts us out. No annoyed glances, just a desire to help. Once outside the doors, I ask the male usher where I can find the nearest bathroom.  He points, then changes his mind. “I’ll take you to a better one,” and proceeds to chat as he walks us all the way down a flight of stairs to the family bathroom.

Back in the hall, friendly usher number one offers the ushers’ seats to us, about to shoo them off. When I decline ( sotto voce so as not to disturb the audience)  back to our seats we go without a fuss. No “wait until the intermission,” the standard protocol for classical concerts. Clearly, she went to nice usher training. Jonathan, like Elastigirl’s long-lost cousin, promptly melts off his chair onto the floor. I’m not going to disturb everyone by traipsing out again… The petite 92 year old to my left asks if I need help.  The orchestra plays on. Visions of Jonathan dragging her off her chair and across the floor dance in my head. “Thanks, we’re OK,” I quickly whisper. The usher approaches again, asking us if we need a doctor. “He’s fine,” I reply, desperate to stop distracting everyone. I’ve gotten there just in time to hear a lightning speed rendition of the soprano aria “Rejoice, Greatly.”  Barely on the edge of my chair I half kneel over Jonathan, who is actively pulling away, holding on tight as I crane my head around the pillar in front of me. Exhausted (forgot to mention, my 94 year old Mom’s memorial service was the day before), teetering on the brink of self-pity, I have a split-second choice to make. Glory in this magnificent aria and orchestra and the joy of seeing my son play, or yield? I make the tiniest turn. Joy and gratitude are there to greet me.  Frustration and futility lose their grip. And what nudges me? The Kindness of others. Simple, helpful acts. A lifeline to hope. God’s love made flesh. I am not alone. I am not alone! Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice greatly!

After the concert, the little lady and Nick and I chat. Her only criticism? “It was too quiet! After all, this is the Good News!” Maybe she isn’t a little lady after all. Maybe she’s an angel.  It would make a good story plot...I really wonder...The usher comes back. “I thought your son was fine. I mean, maybe he just wanted to sit on the floor. That doesn’t hurt anyone! But the head usher made me come over and ask if he needed a doctor.  I thought he was probably fine…,” the circle of reasoning repeated at least three times in varying forms. I can tell how eager she is to make me comfortable.

The gift of kindness. Its impact profound, opening my eyes to God’s presence and care.  Lord, please, let this gift received overflow to others. Open my eyes to notice those who need it.  Because it sure makes a difference. They’ll never know how much.