Last updated: May 2023
"In a world where you can be anything, be kind." This often-touted quote is one that resonates in many circumstances; it can remind you at the moment to hold your tongue, it can remind you to have a steady head when dealing with others, and it can remind you that we're all human and dealing with, sometimes incomprehensible, challenges of life, including Alzheimer's.
Kindness in action
I was recently reminded to be kind in a lengthy, worthwhile Facebook post written by my cousin. She described her relationship with her neighbor, who has been notorious for being the grouchy, old "get off my lawn" neighbor since the day she moved in. As someone who has had at least 3 kids hanging around and growing up in her house, my cousin was obviously challenged by this type of neighbor. With as formidable a bite and a bark as the dog in Sandlot, many a ball was lost throughout the time she's lived here, by my recollection.
Time passes, as we all know all too well, and now the kids are older, there are fewer balls that need fetching from the old lady's yard, and you would think times and interactions have been quiet. However, here's the plot twist: The once mean-old lady who was surgical with her words of disparagement to my cousin and her family members has lost some of her meanness, as well as more than a few of her memories.
Calls to quiet down the kids or get the bikes off of her property has turned to a timid knock on the door as she looks to find her home, a call from the police station as the disorientation took her a little too far, and a helping hand when she's standing confused in her own driveway wondering how to get home. The neighbor's words of hate have morphed into a grateful "Thank you, Mom," to my cousin after she's set her up in her home, ensuring she has food and gets settled.
She could be any of us
I know all of us who have been on this dementia and Alzheimer's journey are crying a little bit inside at this woman, who has so few people in her life to care for her that the neighbor she once depreciated now holds her hand as she walks through life. I felt it when I read the post the first time, and I feel it as I'm sharing these words with you now.
I personally don't do well with sadness and so my reaction morphs into "It shouldn't be this way!" and so many more questions that don't have immediate answers and/or won't offer immediate help to the neighbor, who, in reality, could be any one of us. The only immediate answer: Be kind.
My cousin displays the utmost kindness in all the important areas of her life; it radiates from her, and I'm so appreciative to have had her as a role model growing up. She's still teaching me lessons. The example that she's setting for herself, for her neighbors, for her kids and for everyone who read that Facebook post is BE KIND. Would you be so able to rise above past slights and care for the human being next door? Looking around at the world, it's often not the case. Nonetheless, it's the only human answer.
The neighbor also could have chosen, at a time when my cousin was a single mom raising kids next door, to be kind. She did not. She had no idea that she would lean on my cousin so heavily later in life. No one can imagine that. But we can choose in each moment and each interaction, in spite of our anger or frustration at the present moment, to be kind.
More and more in life, the basic rules that we learned as children continue to hold all the truth you need in them. "In a world where you can be anything, be kind."
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