Unexpected kindness

Today’s daily prompt:

Is there a person you should’ve thanked, but never had the chance? Is there someone who helped you along the way without even realizing it? Here’s your chance to express your belated gratitude.

We’ve been waiting 45 minutes. The air in the clinic waiting room is stuffy and stale, and one of the harsh fluorescent lights is flickering. Three month-old Monkey is asleep in my arms. Two year-old Bean is sitting on the chair beside me. I am regretting the decision to bring the kids to the clinic, but Bean’s cough sounded so painful this morning. It must be our turn soon.

Bean has been so good. He’s been bringing me book after book from the basket under the clinic’s magazine rack, but now we’ve read them all. He starts to kick the chair. He asks to go home. I tell him we just have a little longer to wait, and he needs to be patient. He kicks the chair harder and asks to go home louder. In the packed waiting room, a couple of heads turn our way. After 45 minutes of sitting still, I know Bean has reached his limit and we’re headed for trouble. And I know I don’t have it in me today to deal with it.

I haven’t slept. I haven’t eaten. Though I don’t know it now, I am at the lowest point in my struggle with postpartum depression. I’m fragile and thin-skinned, imagining judgement and accusation in the eyes of everyone in the room. In my lap, Monkey starts to stir. Within the next two minutes I know that I’ll have a crying, hungry baby and a clinging, misbehaving toddler. I can’t do this.

With one more look up at the clock I tell Bean that we’re going to go home and try another day. Though it’s what he asked for, in typical toddler fashion he is upset at this change in plans. His eyes start to fill with tears, and so do mine.

An elderly man is sitting next to us. Until this moment he has been immersed in his book, showing no signs of noticing us at all. He gently puts his book down and deliberately drops the plastic tab with his waiting-room number onto the floor.

“Oh dear. I seem to have dropped my number. Young man, do you think you can pick it up for me?”

Bean picks it up and hands it back to the man shyly, never meeting his eyes.

“Thank you! What a kind boy you are.”

Bean straightens, puffed up with pride.

“Would you like to see my cane? My son carved the handle.”

My curious boy reaches out a hand to touch the wooden handle of the man’s cane. The tears that flow so often spill out of my eyes and down my cheeks. I look down, hoping no one can see. Just then, our number is called. I take Bean’s hand and whisper to him to say thank you to the man. But as we make our way through the clinic door, I don’t trust myself to look him in the eye, to thank him myself. By the time we are finished he is no longer in the waiting room.

Life with small kids is measured in moments. On some days, each moment has us teetering on the edge, and these small, everyday kindnesses are the difference between isolation and community, between okay and not okay.

So, to that elderly man in the clinic waiting room, thank you. Thank you for your kindness to my son which was compassion for me. Thank you for showing me, in that moment during the dark days, that I was not alone.


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