Kindness

It wasn’t much of a day for celebrating, this rainy Wednesday. In years past we’ve marked my husband’s June birthday with lobster dinners in Maine, or hiking with our boys and our friends on Monhegan Island. There have been poems written, surprise parties thrown, memorable gatherings around our porch table, cards and presents and cakes and people. But yesterday I could offer none of those things.

I’d spent the day before having surgery on my face for a small skin cancer that required excision and some careful reconstruction, and as of yesterday morning I was still loopy from the anesthesia. I had a swollen, bandaged temple, stitches, pain when I smiled or frowned. It was raining. Our kids are both away at their summer jobs. How to create a birthday out of this?

We thought about going out to dinner, but Steve said he’d rather be at home. And so I mustered the energy to shop for food, then stood in the rain in the parking lot at the grocery store, trying in vain to keep my face bandage dry while shoving my key into a car door that wouldn’t open. Of course it wouldn’t — after a few seconds of fruitless key-jamming, it finally dawned on me that I was trying to force my way into someone else’s car. I had no idea where my own might be, so I wandered around for a while till I finally found it, and then I realized I had no memory whatsoever of parking it. No wonder the doctor had told me not to drive for a day!

Home at last, I hauled in the grocery bags, took a couple of extra-strength Tylenol, put the entire Van Morrison play list on the stereo, and spent the afternoon making lasagna, salad, a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. The rain came down. The kitchen filled with good smells. And I found myself surprised by gratitude.

Twenty-five years I’ve written birthday cards to this man, and it suddenly occurred to me that the only thing either of us really wants now is a decent shot at twenty-five or so more. We are at an age, and at a stage in life, where we’re reminded on a daily basis that we would be fools to take any moment of any of this for granted. Life is a gift, not a promise. And for today, anyway, we hold that gift intact in the palms of our hands — our good health, our togetherness, our love, our future.

There is nothing like a day spent in the hospital to remind you just how precious a day NOT spent in the hospital is. Nothing like a minor health scare to make you praise God for every single working body part. Nothing like a little operation, and a few hours lost to the nowhere land of anesthesia, to make you fall to your knees and kiss the solid ground of your own messy, mundane, incredibly lovely life. Nothing like checking out for a day to make you want to shout with joy at the simple fact that you are being allowed, this time, to check right back in.

My husband came into my post-op cubicle on Tuesday afternoon to listen to the going-home instructions just as I was coming to, landing back in my own body after flying through the oblivion of sedation. He smiled when he saw me and kissed my head, never letting on for one single second that he was shocked by what he saw: my sagging face, my paralyzed brow, my eye drooping shut like a stroke victim’s. He had no idea, then, whether or not this new lopsided version of me was permanent, but I’ll forever give him credit for not registering one iota of dismay at the sorry, crooked sight of me.

(It wasn’t until I got a look in a mirror myself, an hour later, that I appreciated what he’d done for me, comprehended the grace and the fortitude of that smile.) This, I venture to say, is what old, seasoned love is all about: being able to produce a heartfelt, adoring expression even when your spouse looks like hell, even when she can’t stand up to put her own pants on, even when you’re asked to push her down the hall in a wheelchair, even when you don’t know for certain if she is destined to look forevermore like a bad Cubist painting.

Darkness fell early last night, despite the fact that it was the second longest day of the year. I lit some candles, opened a bottle of champagne, served up dinner, gave Steve a card. My husband is sixty-two. I remember the year my own dad turned sixty, how very old he seemed to me then. Now, I can’t help but wonder how we ended up here ourselves, with so many years suddenly behind us and not quite so many left ahead. I want to live them well. When I ask myself how to do that, two simple words come to mind: “Be kind.” Such a modest aspiration. Such a formidable challenge. Such an essential instruction.

This morning, I filled the bathtub with hot water, climbed in, and then called my husband to the bathroom to give me a hand. While he held a towel over my bandage, I washed my hair. Another humbling first. What else, I wonder, will we be asked to do for one another as age creeps in and exacts its toll? “Before you know what kindness is,” writes Naomi Shihab Nye, “you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment, like weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.”

This, I suspect, is the territory that lies just ahead and around the curve of today. A place where loss grows familiar, where joy becomes inextricably bound with sorrow, where endings outnumber beginnings, and where, as we make our tender peace with things as they are, “only kindness makes sense any more.”

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your comments

  1. Beautifully said as always, Katrina. Wishing you complete healing and many more birthdays to celebrate.

  2. Gorgeous, as always – I adore that poem and always enjoy reading its lines. But far more than Nye’s words, it is yours that stick with me here. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a better summary of what love – or even life – is about than this: “fortitude and grace.”

  3. Beautiful and true.

  4. Sending healing energy your, way, Katrina. I love how you find meaning, love and faithfulness, even among the difficulties.

  5. Lauren Reilly says:

    Here’s wishing you both MANY happy birthdays together! How wonderful that you are always grateful. That is the key to happiness. Beautifully written, as always. Enjoy summer with your loved ones.

  6. Every word resonated with me. Thank you.

  7. You described how I have been feeling as I turn 39 soon! While I know I am still young, it is jarring to realize my own father never made his own 39th birthday. As I teeter on the halfway point in my life, your blog helps me see the lovely in the past and the present everyday.
    God Bless and good health!

  8. Sandy in South Dakota says:

    The timing of this could not be better. Thank you. God bless you and your family.

  9. Anne R. Brusca says:

    Your brush with mortality touched me deeply. I have been a caregiver for my husband with Alzheimer’s for over six years now. Sometimes it takes a superhuman effort to be kind when I am exhausted , but I remind myself that over the years, when I have been seriously ill, he has shown kindness to me. Thanks for your profound thoughts.

  10. Katrina
    So beautifully said – as always. I am always inspired by your ability to find the positive in every situation. I hope you heal quickly. Hugs!

  11. Katrina- I hope you are on the mend. Happy Birthday to Steve! As always, your writing is simply beautiful and gives me much to think about!

  12. Girl did you touch my soul with this one. My husband had an accident on May 12 and we’ve been living through the stages of shock, doctors, hospitals and recovery since. It has caused us to reflect more deeply on our gratitude and our future as we age. He will be 65 in July and I am 63. Our health has been excellent and then the accident with major surgery, complications, and now recovery—all of which was a shock and reminder of the tender thether of good health.
    I hope you are healing quickly. Thank you for this lovely piece. I will reflect it on it for some time.

  13. Came via Pomegranates and Paper. This is a lovely, lovely post. I’m divorced, and in a relationship, and I hope I have 50 more years with this man. I’ll be 104 by that point, so it’ll be a lot of holding of papery hands:).

  14. Pat Mayer says:

    How easy it is to forget to “be kind” to those we take for granted. Great food for thought!

  15. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I hope you heal quickly. Thank you for your reminders of how precious, especially the mundane, truly is.

  16. Thank you for this, Katrina. As we celebrate our 22nd anniversary in a month, it is a most welcome reminder of all I have to be grateful for…

    beautifully said, as always.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery…

  17. I never know what to say when I comment on your blog, because I feel like you’ve said everything there is to say. So just thank you for writing.

  18. Katrina, this is one of the most powerful works I have read recently. It’s so beautiful and full of compassion and grace and love. Thank you for this – your words opened my own heart.

    Wishing you healing and comfort and a quick recovery.

  19. Beautiful and close to home for me as well.

  20. Beautiful post. I can only hope to have the kindness your husband expressed upon seeing you in the recovery area. I found myself with widened eyes and an audible gasp upon seeing my husband’s face immediately after his Mohs procedures for basal cell carcinoma. Wishing you a speedy recovery, and thank you for such a meaningful post.

  21. Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for such a lovely post. Just found your blog and looking forward to reading more of your words.

  22. Found your post via Pomegranates & Paper. What an eloquent and loving way to touch the subject of aging. Despite modern science and health advances, aging in some ways seems to come to us earlier than in the past making it more difficult to fathom and cope with. Your “two words” are an insightful means to do so, and the reminder, one that I much appreciate. Thank you.

  23. thank you for your post. My husband and I are also entering that stage in life and my parents who are both almost 90 are almost through it.

  24. Tammy Flahive says:

    Katrina,

    I hope you heal quickly from your surgery. I am still enjoying your book, the gift of an ordinary day. I am on page 213. It’s a very moving and interesting book. You sure are smart. I have 2 boys too. I really enjoy your writing. I want to read Mitten Strings next. I am trying to share it with theMoms in my playgroup so I have someone to read it with. Feel better soon…
    Sincerely,
    Tammy Flahive

  25. Elizabeth Hudson-Weires says:

    I am blessed to have stumbled on to your site by a relative posting it on her facebook. Your last post and this new post are so applicable to my own life. Grown children, new found private time with husband and friends facing health ordeals and losses through house fires and accidents. As this world whirls around us each day, spinning faster and faster to the end of our personal number of days, we must cherish the small things that make life special. Thank you for sharing from your heart and touching mine. Looking forward to more posts.
    Beth

  26. Beautiful thoughts as usual. I hope you recover well. I have a health scare myself this week and as I am waiting for that to be sorted out, your words hit home – hard. Thank you.

  27. Sarah VanOverwalle says:

    This is how I feel everyday now. Our family suffered a huge loss last year and we go forward trying to make sense of this life and how fast the time goes. Our family mantra has become”we are here for a good time, not a long time”. I try to cherish every moment and I felt every word of what you wrote about today. I will go forward into this next week with kindness in the forefront. Thanks!

  28. Amy Canby says:

    I’ve recently read your book and found your blog. What a treasure! Each one of your posts reminds me of how I want to live. Thank you.

  29. Sent here by Mrs. Pom. Such a lovely post, very thoughtful and time appropriate for me. My hubby turns 60 this year, and I remember when 30 was old!

  30. Do you know that with every word of yours I read I learn even more how to live. Truly.
    xo

  31. Oh my, at 62, or shortly thereafter, you start to learn the first of many secrets, such as: there is no such thing as a bad Cubist painting or a bad birthday. Happy birthday, you two. And many more.

  32. I’m amazed again at how much your words resonate with me. Tonight my house is quite except for the sound of fans and the bubbling of the aquarium. They boys are out for the evening, and in the fall they will all be gone away at college. I miss the ‘full house’ feeling that we had and lively family birthday celebrations. Sad that those years are now behind us. But, your words are a gentle reminder to tune in again to my husband as we walk forward together.

    P.S. My heart goes out to you and your skin cancer procedure. I have had 4 so far and suspect that there will be more. Too bad we didn’t know more when we were growing up about the risks of sun exposure.

  33. I’ll sit with this blog for a while. Sobering and hopeful.

    Thank you.
    Jan

  34. Thank you for reminding me of this universal truth: that kindness is the hallmark of God and a central facet of authentic relationships.

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