A hug and a baby wipe
In October of 2011 my father was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. About a month before the news broke, I’d traveled to Colorado to visit my two sisters for my birthday. I’d just turned 23 and was in my last year of college in Gainesville. My parents lived about 80 miles south of my door at the time.
I was aware of my dad’s appointment afterward, but my parents were unusually cryptic about why he’d gone in the first place. Looking back, I’m sure that the symptoms were worse that they ever let on, but I distinctly remember how my stomach churned when they dismissed the appointment so easily. My dad wasn’t the type of man you could get into a doctor’s office even if you affirmed that his visit would be rewarded handsomely.
After his colonoscopy, which happened a few weeks after I’d returned from CO, we knew there were polyps, but not how many or how big. What we did know is that they couldn’t be removed routinely.
Getting the results
A few days before Halloween, he had the big appointment with the surgeon. Naively, we went into it thinking little about cancer (the physician who did his colonoscopy didn’t even mention that as a concern).
At the time I was working as a floor instructor at a huge gym in Gainesville, and I knew I’d get the call about the appointment during my shift. I informed my supervisor that I’d have to step out for a few minutes, and before I knew it, the call came.
I sat on a bench outside the two-story complex, and waited on the line for my parents to conference call both my sisters. My hands trembled.
My mom, in a shaky voice that has grown too familiar in the last few years, broke the news. We sobbed together, miles apart. My heart broke and pounded behind my ears.
There are utterly no words to describe the grief I felt, so I won’t try.
A stranger’s kindness
As active as the gym was, I couldn’t control my tears. They rushed in, and as I sat on the bench for what seemed like hours after the call, I cradled my head in my palms. Eye makeup ran down my hands and caked itself to my cheeks, chin and neck. God only knows how long I sat there sobbing before she tapped my shoulder.
A young woman (I could tell by her shoes) rubbed my arm. I was afraid to look up, but when I did, humble eyes met mine – her’s and her daughter’s. The little girl had beautiful, bouncy blonde curls, and her mother’s face was draped in the same radiant yellow.
She was a stranger, but her words are some the most generous I’ve ever heard. I will take them with me every place I go for the rest of my days.
“I don’t know what you’re dealing with, but it looks like you need a hug.” Without thinking, I hugged her as she held her daughter’s hand.
After a few minutes, we finally broke our embrace. “Honey, you should see your face. Do you want a baby wipe?” I shook my head and accepted, thanking her.
She didn’t say another word, just looked at me and smiled. I looked from her eyes to her daughter’s, both offering calming kindness, and she was gone. I watched her daughter’s angel curls bounce through the parking lot.
Generosity in the small things
It was a hug and a baby wipe that made all the difference that day, and the memory has made all the difference so many days since. Sometimes being generous doesn’t mean giving something monetarily, but giving something much more valuable. Near the end of October in 2011, that hug meant more than all the dollars in the world.
I don’t even know her name. Someday maybe I’ll get the chance to tell her exactly what those few minutes meant to me. I can only hope so.