Earlier today my dad, Kelly and I accompanied my mom to the doctor's office in the hopes of finding a remedy for the heinous congestion she's been experiencing since returning home to Michigan from a vacation in Florida almost three weeks ago. The aforementioned appointment lasted for more than an hour and, as is the case with seemingly all endeavors medical, there was a fair bit of waiting involved, so Kelly, my mom and I decided to fill the minutes by making jokes and taking selfies, which explains the sort-of-lovely photo above. I think it's important to note that my dad actively declined to participate in the photography portion of our time-filling even though he was standing a mere two feet from the selfie-taking, stating, and I quote, "There's more than enough information about me on the World Wide Web as it is." Although I'm not entirely sure what he means, I'm gonna have to assume it's this.
I was lying next to my mom in my parents' bed a few minutes ago—my left hand stroking her hair, my right hand tracing the lines on her face—while I waited for my dad to finish changing into his sleeping clothes, when I said, absentmindedly and half-joking and mostly to myself, "I wish I had your jawline." She had been given her medication just a short while before and I wasn't entirely sure whether she was even awake or not, but her eyes opened up just enough to reveal their brilliant hue and her lips formed a slow smile and she said, in the gravelly, clipped voice that ALS has given to her, "You are beautiful." I smiled into her eyes with my own, kissed her on the forehead and said, "You are beautiful."
A moment later my dad returned, so I kissed my mom again and gave her hand a squeeze, hugged my dad tightly and wished them both a good night. I'd made it into the living room just outside their door when I heard my mom say something else. I turned around and looked toward my dad with raised eyebrows and asked what was wrong. My dad winked at me and said, "She just said, 'I'm so proud of you.'"
Earlier tonight, much like they've done on most other Wednesday nights since ALS bound my sweet mother to a wheelchair, three of her best friends journeyed to my parents' condo from the far side of town for a visit. They used to hike and jog and throw outrageous backyard dinner parties together, did the four of them, but now, because my mom can't do much else, they mostly just sit around my parents' dining room table keeping one another company. Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they cry, but always, without fail, they show my mom and dad a rare and dazzling and inexplicable kind of love that blurs the line between friends and family and makes me wonder how we got so damn lucky to know so many of these kinds of people.
"Some people care too much. I think it's called love."
A. A. Milne
Even though this day was a mammoth improvement over the previous one, I'm still holding firm to the idea that every single person in the world should be required to take (and pass) a course called Life 101: Fairness Is a Myth, but Be Kind Anyway. I'm not entirely sure who would teach it (probably my mom, or Ellen DeGeneres) or where said class would be held (most likely at Chipotle, or possibly on Netflix), but I'm putting together a syllabus and the following piece by Neil Gaiman (yes, I'm fully aware that I will soon have to rename this web log An Online Place for Words Written by Neil Gaiman) is most definitely gonna be taught on the first day.
Sometimes I suspect we are all horrible people. Or at least, we are human people. Same thing. We are impatient, judgmental, irritating and irritated, grumpy, easily offended and the rest of it.
So how to be kinder if it doesn't come naturally?
Fake it a little bit at a time.
Because there isn't actually any difference between doing something nice for someone because you are naturally saintly and perfect, and doing something nice for someone because you are secretly demonic and trying to cover it up. It's still an act of kindness either way, and you still made their lives better.
Smile at people. Say hullo. Ask about their lives. Remember what they've told you about their lives. Do small things to try and help them. (They will not know you are horrible, do not worry. They will just perceive that you are helping.)
Give people the benefit of the doubt. Remember that it's more often stupidity to blame than evil, that everyone can screw up (including you) and what's important is learning from that.
Think "What would an actually kind person do now?" — and do that. Don't beat yourself up when you fail. Just be as kind to yourself as you will be to others — even if you have to fake that.
And good luck.
Also on the syllabus thus far is the one and only rule for the course which is that any person who doesn't pass Life 101: Fairness Is a Myth, but Be Kind Anyway has to get the following quote (attributing it is kind of a cluster) tattooed on their face.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
I'm not entirely sure what I want to remember about this day except that there were a few pretty good parts and some truly awful ones too and my dad is like Superman only better because he's real and my mom is the bravest person I've ever known and my family is a force of nature and laughter has the power to heal but tears are fine too and I wish there were a required class for every single human being on the planet called Life 101: Fairness Is a Myth, but Be Kind Anyway and sometimes when I'm flying and the airplane is bouncing around in the sky like chunks of fruit in a Jell-O mold and I haven't had enough alcohol to make me not afraid yet I play a song on repeat through my headphones called "Keep Breathing" and it slows my heartbeat down a little bit and I'm hoping like hell it'll do the same thing for me right now because everything feels like turbulence except that I'm on solid ground or at least I thought I was and I'm gonna embed that song below just in case I'm not the only person who needs it tonight and I hope tomorrow will be a better day.