by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper, 12/2017

Three stories.  All of the same message.

  • One of my closest friends from high school – also named Bobby – has been sending me messages through Facebook to call him.  All these years later were still close and he is one of my compasses in my life.  He knows me well; he knows when something’s going on — even when all the Facebook posts are happy ones.  He knows me well and knows what worries me, what keeps me awake at night.   So I call last Friday night, and we have one of our marathon conversations as we do several times a year.  Near the end, I apologize for once again turning the call into a therapy session.  He laughs and reminds me that he is always encouraging me to call, that I also listen a lot, and I only talked about the things going on in my life right now for about 10 minutes before we were laughing and joking and talking about all sorts of other things for the next hour or two.  Talking to him was cathartic – he knows me.  He knows what’s REALLY going on at any given time.  I’m grateful to have him as one of the people in the “support group” in my life.   
  • Recently, I bumped into a friend I have not seen in some time.  She is always so friendly, so kind, always smiling.  Running into her was serendipity, one of those 30 seconds later and we would’ve missed each other moments, and we ended up talking for over 20 minutes and caught up on each other’s lives.  And she asked me to pray for her and the people around her and told me about some of the problems they face.  I had absolutely no idea.  She has always been one of these people that I thought had a so-called perfect life.  While I understand no one has a perfect life, I never, ever imagined what she was going through, and what her family is going through.  I will be praying for her and talking to her more.
  • My wife Susan is visiting a friend in the hospital.  She steps into the elevator and it is one of those moments where she meant to go “down” and the elevator is going “up.”  It’s something that has happened to all of us, and the three other people in the elevator and Susan joked about it with the usual things people say – “you’re taking the scenic route,” “you get to take a trip with us,” and laughing about it.  Susan continues the story — amid the good-natured humor and smiles, the doors open on another floor and a woman gets on the elevator.  Her demeanor is very serious, and Susan says the woman looked right through her like she wasn’t even there.  The vibe coming from that woman – well, the group somehow knew to stop joking around.  So they rode the elevator in silence, and then the elevator doors opened and standing there waiting for the woman was a nurse and a priest.  “He’s okay!  He is going to be okay!  It’s all right!”  They both told her.   And the woman started SOBBING, collapsing into heaving crying as the nurse and priest led her to the person she was so worried about.  As Susan explained to me, the presence of a priest certainly indicated that whomever the woman was going to see was either near death, already dead, or in a very bad way.  The obvious relief the woman showed, just letting the emotions explode out affected everyone in the elevator.   They’d just assumed she was in bad mood or not friendly.   They had no idea what she was carrying.


All three of these stories have something in common: You never really know what people are dealing with, what is really going on in other people’s lives, you just don’t know.   You don’t know their concerns, the things that keep them awake at night, their worrying about health or the health of people they love, their fears about money, work, the children, the parents, and any of a thousand other things – the secret pains, the secret concerns.  You have NO idea. And neither do I.

So please be kind.     And patient.

Those people who might be a little quick with you, the ones who seem preoccupied, the ones who are giving that vibe that something is not quite right.  If someone offends you, if someone is a little unkind or quick with you, if someone is a little rude or impatient, if someone is not listening, if someone is not quite present, give them the benefit of the doubt – whatever is going on, whatever you think you’re seeing – it might not be about you at all.

You see it constantly but it bears repeating – we are all carrying something heavy, we are all worried about something. 

Your small acts of compassion, patience, kindness, even a smile, or just giving them needed space can make a world of difference to someone.

What a great gift to give, what a great new year’s resolution. 

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.  May you be safe and protected.  May you be healthy and strong.  May you be happy and contented.  And may you live with ease and peace.

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