During this visit, he was the man I had remembered over the last five years I had known him. We visited briefly--perhaps an hour, possibly a bit more. During that time, he engaged me in asking questions about me. He talked about not fearing death--that he was ready. He talked about his sorrow about not being able to say goodbye to all of those he knew in a way that would bring the closure he wanted for them. He talked about Hawaii and people he loved. He talked a bit about his funeral. He talked to his doctor who came in to ask him questions, thanking her and the hospital for the wonderful care he had been given during his hospital stay. He ate a bit and coughed a lot. His pain was obvious, but unspoken. He had a demeanor of peace and as I looked at him I thought to myself that he is the kindest person I know. As I left, he asked to give me a hug.
Through his life, my friend put others first. He made random and not so random acts of kindness for family, friends and strangers. His life purpose was that of service to others and through the way he served others he showed kindness. He could be cantankerous when things were not right because on a base level his motivation was kindness. When I left the hospital, I thought I would be next seeing him at a rehab facility and he would have many months of life. The next day I got a message that he had slipped into a coma. Friends poured in to honor a man who had been kind to them over the years to say final goodbyes. Two days after my initial visit I visited my friend again. This time he lay quietly in a space that was self-contained. His breathing was labored and that look of peace remained. I sat next to him in the quiet of the evening, hand on his arm, thanking him for showing me a path toward kindness. As I left, I gave him one final hug. Two days later my friend passed from this life.
In days when kindness is not of societal value, when we see presidential candidates offering decorum that is far from that of kindness, when the value of "me" is more important than that of "you", when bullying and meanness is esteemed, having models of kindness is more important than ever. As a mother, as a friend, as a sister, as a daughter, as an educator, as a community member, I value kindness. I recognize kindness and I show appreciation to others when I see it. Kindness makes our world a better, gentler place. Kindness is not grandiose. Yet true kindness makes our world grand.
Soon after my friend's funeral I went through a drive through for coffee and spontaneously asked to pay for the person behind me. I was at school and noticed a child in distress and took the extra moment that was needed to make that child comfortable. I listened to my son when that is all I wanted to do was speak. I recognized the simple moments when kindness could make a difference and I acted in kindness. That is what my friend would have done. Thank you, Dennis, for being a beacon of kindness. Kindness is important. Kindness is, in fact, the most important.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore. ~Naomi Shihab Nye from her poem "Kindness"
Below are two songs on kindness.
Humble and Kind, by Tim McGraw
Nothing More, by Alternative Routes (Dedicated to Charlotte Bacon, a child who lost her life in the Newtown tragedy, in an effort to raise awareness for the organization Newtown Kindness.)