January 3. It’s a date that has stood out on the calendar for 23 years now. It’s the day my friend suddenly died at wrestling practice my junior year of high school.
All these years later, while I still see my friend’s sweet face in math class, the last time I spoke to him, I no longer dwell on the sounds of the sirens from the ambulance rushing to the field, or the way my dad gently but honestly told me that he died, or how, when a mutual friend called to share the news, I cried with relief that I was no longer burdened with keeping this horrible secret (my mom worked at the school, so I knew well before I should have known).
These days I remember the kindness of a different friend. I remember how he talked to me, providing a welcome distraction from what was happening on the field not even a hundred feet away. I remember how he called me to say how sorry he was and asked if I wanted company. I remember how hard he hugged me at school the next day. I remember how patient he was when, after so many months of bad timing trying to date, my grief set us back.
Ten years ago, I very nervously reached out to him to say thank you. He appreciated the sentiment but said he considered all of it part of being a friend. Maybe, but it’s not something I take for granted.
Fast forward to this past April. In the midst of a huge reunion, this friend of mine and I managed to steal a few quiet minutes, and he told me how sorry he was to hear of my dad’s passing. That meant just as much to me as his kindness all those years ago had – and still does.
So wistfulness aside, what’s the point? The point is you may never know how an act of kindness – that maybe you didn’t give even a second thought about – can imprint on one’s heart. The point is if you’re lucky enough to be on the receiving end of such kindness, let the person know what it means to you, even if it’s years later. The point is, just as Mr. Rogers has encouraged us to look for helpers during a tragedy, during difficult times that make you want to turn your back on the world for its unfairness, look for kindness.
The weeks following my dad’s death were some of the worst days of my life, but those days also included incredible kindness, not only from friends, but also from people I least expected to care. The bad stuff, thankfully, is mostly a blur of pain, but the kindness I remember vividly: a care package of snacks from far away friends, who knew I wouldn’t want to eat meals but wanted to make sure I was still eating; the beautiful cake a friend baked to bring homemade sweetness to my day; the touching letter I received from a friend who knew what it was like to lose a parent; the donations that were made by virtual strangers and those that were made anonymously, all in memory of my dad, who they didn’t know. The friend who just a few weeks ago saw that I was struggling with the fifth anniversary of my dad’s death and put an adorable cactus figure on my desk to make me smile. These kindnesses are what I remember, and likely will for the rest of my life. And they inspire me to show more loving kindness to others.
So today, in memory of my friend who died 23 years ago, and in honor of my other friend who helped me through that difficult time, I am choosing kindness.