I recently took part in Random Acts of Kindness Week, inspired by the work of Patience Salgado (see box, “Following Up”). A new assignment is given each day; Friday's was to get a bouquet of flowers and give them away. I decided to spread the joy by giving them out individually, rather than all to one person.
I had to go downtown to do some errands and took the flowers with me. First stop was the bank. The teller asked if someone had given me the flowers. After explaining about Random Acts of Kindness Week, I pulled out a flower for her. She loved it and said she would look it up online.
The man standing next in line said, “You know, we should be doing random acts of kindness every day.” I wholeheartedly agree, and I do try to do that. But the mindful and meaningful attention required to carry out the assignments gave those efforts an extra boost.
I left the bank, my eyes and energy attuned to seeing who would get the next flower. Then I ran into Happy, one of the sweet people I photographed, interviewed and filmed for the “Living on the Edge” art project. Seeing that he’d lost a lot of weight, I asked how he was doing, and he told me his cancer (which I didn’t even know he had) was back.
Earlier that day, in fact, he’d learned that the cancer has now spread throughout his body. As tears began welling up in my eyes, he talked softly about the long life he’d lived (he’s only 64), saying that as long as his family would be taken care of, he was OK with going.
This man has had a very hard life, yet there was no trace of bitterness or disappointment in either his tone or his words. He said he would finally start receiving disability payments within a few weeks. I asked him what had happened, since he’d been told he was eligible when he had heart problems last year. Happy explained that missing paperwork had delayed his case until now. Yet despite the cruel irony (since he now has so little time left), I heard no frustration from him.
I’m sad that I didn’t realize Happy had continued struggling with serious health problems and no benefits all this past year. I’m sad that he was exposed to Agent Orange in the military, and his body is now riddled with cancer. I’m sad that people like Happy are ignored every day. I’m sad that I can’t single-handedly change the way the world works.
Happy is an example to us all: He lives in the present, grateful for everything that comes his way. He doesn’t dwell on what he doesn’t have; he doesn’t wallow in his misfortunes.
As I was talking to him, everyone who passed by ignored him. All he asks is, “Would you be willing to help out a Vietnam veteran?” It was all I could do not to blurt out, “For God’s sake, this man just found out his cancer is now all over his body, and it’s going to be weeks before he finally starts receiving his disability benefits. Brother, sister, can’t you spare a dime? Can’t you spare a smile? Can’t you spare some love?”
Where are we in our society when we become numb to others? Why is it so easy to walk by, pretending you don’t see someone in need? Ignoring the pain and suffering of others is not the answer. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Please join me in making a commitment to help Happy and others like him. You can start by watching the video (see box) and passing it on to everyone you know. Then do some brainstorming on how you can make a difference and be part of the solution. Anyone interested in helping Happy and his family can contact me directly (see below).
That brings us back to the beginning of this story. I didn’t have any cash on me, so I gave Happy the rest of my flowers and asked him to take them home to his wife. I leaned over to give him a hug, and he kissed me gently on my cheek.
Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said: “It’s going to be OK. We all die — this is only a playground.”
— Asheville artist Chloe Kemp uses her love of writing, photography and art in general to bring awareness and a voice to causes that touch her deeply. She can be reached at http://avl.mx/c1.