When We Care

Jun 07, 2024

The room was dark. The blinds were drawn. The lights were off. It was a darker, drearier day outside, which only added to the darkness inside. Her demeanor was dark. She seemed sad, down, lonely. She was living with cancer and she told us that she felt as if her family didn’t really care about what she was going through. They rarely came to visit. She spent so much of her time alone in her apartment. If she got out of her home, it was primarily for another doctor visit, another treatment, another test to gauge how much the cancer was spreading. It seemed as if she was simply waiting to die, afraid it would be alone.

We listened to her and her story, saddened at her loneliness. When we left, we asked if she would like us to return for another visit. She said she would like that. But once we were outside, we wondered to one another if we had really helped her by being there. She didn’t seem any brighter than when we got there an hour or so before. We felt heartbroken to see someone so lonely and seemingly uncared for, especially as her life was nearing its end. 

A few weeks later, we returned to her home for another visit. Immediately, we could see and feel, to our surprise, that something was remarkably different. The room was much brighter. The blinds were open. The lights were on. She sat up straighter. She smiled when we came in. Her demeanor was completely different from the time before. 

She was a completely different person.

During the conversation, we noted the differences to her. We wondered if anything had happened to make those differences?

“Yes, something did happen. It is because you came to see me the other week, and now you’ve come back. That made all the difference. You showed me that you care.”

It was pretty simple; we showed up. And we listened. We genuinely did care about her. That’s why we went in the first place. That’s why we came back. That’s why we continued to visit her regularly for two more years. Fearful that she would die feeling so alone within a few weeks or months after we first met her, we didn’t want to have that happen. So, we kept on showing up. And she continued to live. We were amazed and thrilled that she did. We kept going on, a changed person. More talkative. Excited to see us. Sharing so many stories about her life and the family she clearly loved, despite her lament that they didn’t visit very much, at least as much as she hoped and wished they would.

For two years, so much of that initial darkness was gone. For two years, she was not alone. For two years, she knew that others cared about what she was living - and eventually, dying  - with. 

Before she died, she expressed to us how much our new friendship meant to her, how much it gave her a new perspective on life, even though her life was threatened and her cancer would eventually end her life. In fact, her gratitude was so deep that she gave us a supreme gift. She asked us to lead her funeral service and she gave her family explicit instructions that this was her final - and non-negotiable - wish. We felt honored and privileged to fulfill that wish for her when that day came.

Today is World Caring Day, a day when we are all reminded to practice caring for others, to show them that they matter, that they are inherently worthy of love. It’s a day to be especially intentional about checking in with people, about asking them how they are doing and feeling, about helping to improve their well-being. The world often seems devoid of such caring. The daily headlines and social media messages speak so profoundly of disconnection, disagreement, despair, disappointment, and disaster. Loneliness is at epidemic levels. So many of us so often feel as if no one really cares about our lives or our well-being.

To show up, to show that we care in some even small and simple way can make the most exponentially wonderful difference in someone else’s life. 

While every life is individually lived, each one being unique from any other, every life is made richer, better, more beautiful, and more meaningful because we share it with others - in ways big and small. Every act of caring - whether big or small - adds a layer of meaning and reassurance to anyone’s spirit. To know that someone notices us, is aware of some of our needs, and wants to show that they care, is a gift beyond measure. It reminds someone that they are not alone. It chips away at our human loneliness when it is felt, and offers a balm concern and connection, especially when we need it the most. Caring, and showing it, can relieve us of our anxieties and soothe a weary and questioning soul.  

Any kind and caring connection only helps to make a situation a little better, if even for a moment. But it is a moment that is remembered and cherished far longer than we often imagine.  It shines a spotlight on all the ways we connect and show each other that we care. Today is a day in which we can be grateful for those caring moments that chip away at our loneliness and our fears. They are far more powerful in the aftermath than perhaps even when the caring moment is shared. So, today, may we take time to celebrate the millions of acts of caring we see and hear and feel and give. Those often simple acts of love live on and on inside of us, both for the giver and the receiver.

The great American writer James Baldwin wrote:

The longer I live, that more deeply I learn that love, whether we call it friendship or family or romance is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light, gentle work, steadfast work, life saving work in those moments when life and shame and sorrow occlude your own light from our view that there is still a cleareyed loving person to beam it back in our best moments we are that person for another.

Acts of caring are those beams of light that reflect our goodness, our worth, our beauty, our respect, our concern, our empathy - our love - back onto someone else so that they can also see theirs, especially in those moments when they are uncertain they possess any of those gifts.

Photo by Morgan Vander Hart on Unsplash 

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