I was walking through a very crowded Port Authority today and had the sudden thought that every single person in the very packed terminal would be dead one day including me. These are the kinds of thoughts I get from time to time.
I think about what I want to be remembered for. I hope I’m remembered for the book I’m slaving away on every day but also hope that, like my sister, I’m remembered for my humor and kindness. My sister is also remembered for the time she got drunk in a concert and got her head stuck in a fence, and for the time she was out mowing her lawn and didn’t realize her tube top had fallen below her boobs. I think the men in her neighborhood remember her most for that.
I know what you are thinking. My goodness, Keith. Another blog about kindness? Sorry. It’s either that or another blog about Trump.
A high school friend of mine related a very moving story to me the other day. She is a reader of this blog so I will protect her identity and give her an assumed named. I will call her Gladiola.
(Speaking of kindness my bus crush is back in the seat next to me and just blessed me when I sneezed. I was very moved.)
Anyway, Gladiola got pregnant in high school at a time when that was a very big deal. No one got pregnant in our high school and she was not one of those girls from the wrong side of the tracks. She wrote me last week and told me a story that I didn’t remember at all.
She said that on the day everyone found out about her condition, kids were gossiping and pointing and saying things about her behind her back. It was the darkest day of her life. Then she told me that in the last period of the day in speech class, I sat in the desk in front of her, turned all the way around and faced her and said, “So what is new with Gladiola today?”.
She said me treating her like nothing happened saved her day.
I was so moved when I read that message. Since I had no memory of doing it and it was almost like I was reading about someone else. My memories of high school tend to be more about things like this big kid named Bob tying my belt loop to my chair/desk combo so when I stood up at the end of class the desk and chair came with me and I collapsed to the floor with the furniture on top of me and the laughter of my classmates surrounding me.
I was surprised and relieved to discover that as a kid I was thoughtful enough to look out for a friend and not judge. And it was generous of Gladiola to share that story with me. I’m sure it’s not a day she loves to think about. But now that story is a bond wewill forever have together (unless she reads this and sues me for libel or defamation of character.) By the way, Gladiola is a really amazing person and pretty much looks like the coolest grandmother in the world , so all those people who judged her in high school were way off the mark.
A heard another story this week about kindness.
A man in my recovery group we will call Ebenezer was standing outside his first meeting years ago trying to decide if he should come back again or just keep on drinking himself to death. He wanted to smoke but his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t light his cigarette. A woman came up and gently took his matches and cigarette. She lit it and handed it back to him. He decided in that moment he would be back the next day. You never know how those little things can make a big difference.
I am far from perfect. Someone approached me when I went out for coffee today and tried to shake my hand and I knew he was about to launch into some kind of spiel asking for money. I felt my personal space being invaded and blurted out “I just want coffee! I just want coffee!” before getting up and walking away. I felt horrible and guilty about it afterward. If he was Jesus in disguise, I am screwed.
I’m also really, really bad when people ask me to pick something up for them while I’m out running an errand. Like today if someone would have said “Can you get me a non-fat caramel latte while you are out getting coffee with disguised Jesus?”, I would not only have said no but would have mostly likely secretly felt enraged that they had asked me. My friend Sara figured out this was because my big brother Greg used to demand I get him Doritos throughout my formative teen and preteen years. And he didn’t just do this when I was running out to the store. I could be watching TV or taking a bath and he would constantly harangue me with “Get me Doritos” “Get me Doritos” “Get me Doritos” over and over and over in an incessant monotone chant until I would finally snap and walk to the damn store to get him his damn Doritos. Even though I know this is why I hate getting people things now that I’m an adult, I don’t yet seem to be capable of change or movement forward on that issue.
But other than that, I do my damndest. My Aunt Jody and my previously mentioned sister are my role models. Aunty Jody is the nicest, holiest person I know. If I don’t make it to heaven because I was not gracious to that man in the coffee shop today, I know once she is there herself, she will put in a good word for me. There is a guy at my bus stop every morning who always wants to talk to me. He has an annoying voice and is not someone who would ever be a candidate for Bus Crush2. All I want to do in the morning at the bus stop is read my book. I’m reading about the making of the Broadway Sondheim 1971 play Follies right now which is every theatre geek’s dream book. But this annoying man wants to talk about the weather or if the bus is late, or how much he hates his job or my banana (my morning snack, you perverts). I was very annoyed until I told my Aunt Jody and she replied, “Maybe God put you there because that guy needs someone to listen to him.” Ever since then I stop reading and talk to him. It’s not as bad as I thought.
Two stories about my sister Julie:
!) She would tip people in parking lot booths “Are you supposed to tip them?” I asked the first time I saw her do this. “I don’t know but they have to stand in that booth all day smelling exhaust fumes, so why not?” was her reply.
2) She was vice president of a cemetery in Cincinnati and I once heard her demanding that her boss give a woman a free burial for her child. The woman had left her baby in the back seat of a hot car because she had picked up pastries for a staff meeting that morning and was off her routine and forgot. The entire city in my hometown seemed to hate her for leaving her baby in a hot car and accidentally killing her own child. What kind of Mother does that? But Julie had compassion. “She has to live with that,” she told me. “And she has another child to raise so she can’t even kill herself.”
That’s why she is my role model.
I saw a post today asking for three words that express happiness. The words people used were things like God is Good, God loves me, Christ has delivered etc. That world they are from is such a foreign world to me. To me happiness is about connecting to each other here on earth. (My three words would either be STARRING TYNE DALY or BEA ARTHUR RESURRECTED. I guess the second one is a little bit religious).
My husband Saul and I have a friend Jen from my work who I got to know through a writing group I started in the office. She is shy and would admit herself that she is a bit of a curmudgeon. Last weekend she was in a writing competition up in Vermont about six hours away and asked us to come the night when they announced the winner.
Jen did two big things in Saul’s and my lives. She told us about the writer Mary Karr doing a workshop in Greece two years ago. We decided to go and it was a life-changing experience. My writing changed and got better from the workshop. She also told us about the bed and breakfast in New Hope called Porches on the Towpath that Saul and I began staying at before we moved here. Saul and I ended up loving the place so much that we got married there. But l hemmed and hawed about going to Vermont to support Jen, and didn’t commit until we literally were pulling out of the driveway last Friday afternoon. “Okay you can text her now and say yes,’ I announced.
The drive was beautiful but the best thing was Jen ended up winning. We were thrilled to be there for her as no one else was able to make the long trip Who doesn’t need someone to cheer and hug them when they win a big prize? I’m sure even Meryl Steep still wants someone to congratulate her.
So, when I’m gone remember me for something kind I did for you, or that time I made you laugh. At the very least remember me for my boyish good looks. Just try to forget about the time I didn’t get you Doritos.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman often worries that a cleverly disguised Jesus is out to get him. He lives in New Hope PA.