A Lesson in Humanity

Humanity Quote 2

My church employs a chef whose family came to the States from Bosnia in the mid-1990s. When they arrived here, our chef’s husband needed a prosthetic leg, which cost $24,000. Knowing that they could not afford the prosthesis, several families within the church pooled their money to purchase the leg. “That’s not something you forget,” our chef told me earlier this week.

I’d run into her in the church kitchen, where I smelled something wonderful. There wasn’t a church event planned at that time of the week, and I wondered what she was cooking. She told me she was preparing a meal for a widow from our congregation, one of those families who helped purchase the $24,000 leg. This widow has lots of dietary restrictions, yet our chef is glad to prepare tasty meals that follow the dietary code. And she always refuses payment.

“That’s so sweet,” I said.

“It’s not being sweet,” she told me. “‘Hi, how are you?’ That’s sweet. This is just being human.”

I didn’t know what to say. My friend, the Bosnian chef, does not mince words, and she’d put me in my place.

I’ve thought about what she said quite a bit over the past week, being human versus being sweet. And she’s right; there is a difference. I had to think about all the times I’ve thought of someone as sweet, and I haven’t been giving them enough credit. My son is sweet when he gives me a hug, but he’s human when he shows his great capacity for compassion, when he immediately thinks to pray for someone in need.

Many people call this being Christian, and if you call yourself Christian, you certainly should pray for others, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and visit those in prison, just to name a few. But I think it also short-changes those people who don’t share my beliefs, yet are compelled to act in ways that are selfless, in ways that humble themselves while serving others.

Perhaps these people are simply being human. Perhaps it’s the way we’re all born, but then the pressures of life get in the way and cloud this original purpose.

Humanity Quote 1I often see the ugly side of people, the kind that gets reported in the news: mindless mobs, riots, senseless violence. But even though they are humans committing these acts, I don’t think its our humanity that is to blame. Think of how we are born: innocent. It’s not until we grow older, when we can choose how we act, that the problems arise.

Our brains set humans apart from the rest of the animals. But not only that. While some animals are able to feel compassion – think of service dogs or perhaps the gorillas that have learned sign language – it is our humanity that leads us to reach out to other people in need and help them. Our humanity is our goodness, not the ugliness. It leads us to give when we expect nothing in return, to show our gratitude in the best ways that we are able.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that this simple message came to me at the start of my favorite season – but also the season when so many people become cynical. Consumerism is about to rear its ugly head in many ways in the next couple months. People will have their feelings hurt when they don’t receive what they expect they deserve for Christmas, or they’ll spend all their energy trying to give the perfect gift, plan the perfect event. But all of us – all of us, no matter what we believe or celebrate – have the capacity to be human with one another. In today’s society, it may even take a little rebellion to get back to our humanity, but I’m willing to try. And I think it’s something we should practice all the time.

Acts of Kindness – Random or Otherwise


Hospital (Photo credit: José Goulão)

This time of year can be painful for so many because while everyone else seems to be enjoying the seasonal festivities, someone is spending a first Christmas alone. Someone else is spending it in the hospital with a bleak outlook. A whole city is in mourning on the anniversary of a terrible elementary school massacre. But do you know what the survivors of the Sandy Hook murders want? Not media attention but kindness, random acts of kindness. If their beloved children and teachers can no longer be with them, at least they – and others – can do good in their memory.

This week, when I became one of the stressed out loved ones of a person in distress, I was reminded just how important these acts of kindness are.

I awoke Tuesday morning to discover that my grandmother had a bout with congestive heart failure in the night, and rescue had broken down her front door and transported her to the hospital. This is the woman who beat a rare brain infection over twenty years ago and basically lived with few medical problems until her first experience with congestive heart failure four years ago. My elder son and I were with her the afternoon it happened, and I felt absolutely helpless. This week, she was alone, and I feel like I should have been there. I drove right by her neighborhood earlier in the day, foregoing a visit because I knew she would be taking her afternoon nap. I will always wonder if I could have helped her if I had just stopped by.

Our family is fortunate because we all live in the same vicinity, so we’ve taken turns helping. And this week, it’s taken a village. Someone has had to stay with her almost constantly. Deprived of oxygen and sleep, her usually tack-sharp mind became delusional, and she blamed us for conspiring to put her in a home and take her money. It hurt us to see her in such a state, not to mention our own bruised feelings.

I met my cousin at her house on Tuesday, figuring that I could at least help get things ready for the repair man to fix her door. Being in her empty house, seeing it untidy, finding the phone where she dropped it – it was tough. But we had work to do. I had exactly $100 in my wallet, which happened to be what the repair man required for materials and labor to fix the door. I left the money for him rather than make someone else run to the bank. After all, I didn’t think I would need it that day.

My cousin and I gathered a bag full of items Grandmama needed, and I took them to the hospital, which by the way, charges two dollars if you want to use their parking garages (which I did because it was pouring). After a quick visit, I got all the way up to the sixth floor of the parking garage before I realized I had no money. I went back in, figuring I could ask one of my aunts for a couple dollars. Then I got lost. And I was already ten minutes late to pick up my son from school.

I saw a man dressed in scrubs, and I asked him for directions to the ICU. He didn’t work there and didn’t know. “Well, I really just need an ATM,” I said. He did know where to find one of those, so I hopped in the elevator with him, shaking my head at my ridiculous situation. When he realized why I needed money, he pulled out his wallet and gave me two dollars, insisting that I not waste my money on ATM fees.

Shocked, I stood in the elevator with his money and called, “God bless you!” as he walked out. I felt like saying something cheesy, like I would pay it forward, but the doors closed, and I was on my way to the parking garage again.

The beginning of what turned into a rough week for my family was touched by this simple act of kindness. It didn’t seem like much – just two dollars. But it was something he absolutely did not have to do – but did gladly anyway. He gave me back some of the time I was already borrowing from the receptionist at my son’s school, who sat with Peter while he waited for me to show up. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and am determined to pay attention to those times when I, too, can make a small but significant difference in someone else’s day.

In the season when my family celebrates the greatest gift ever sent to Earth, so many people have allowed themselves to be consumed with wanting – and then not even being satisfied when they get whatever it is they think they want. They don’t see the people around them who would trade all the gifts in the world for one more Christmas with a deceased loved one – or a peaceful Christmas at home instead of in a hospital or nursing home.

Yet there are others who give, even when they don’t have to. They may not even realize that their small gestures mean so much. To them, I say thank you. Thank you for keeping me from being totally jaded, for reminding me that there is, indeed, still good in this world.