Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, communications manager Bridget Higginbotham shares how unexpected meetings can provide the opportunity to give and receive comfort.
One night downtown, a man stopped me as I was about to enter the Metro station. He said he was “looking for human kindness,” so I offered to get him dinner.
Returning with the soup he wanted, I asked if I could join him on the bench. He happily shifted over and tucked away the to-go bag. Sitting down, I told him I didn’t mind if he ate, but he waved it off with a big friendly smile saying, “I would rather visit with you.”
As we introduced ourselves, the hand that grasped mine was in a brace. Actually, both his wrists had braces — and I could see that they were on wrong.
I recognized this instantly because I know wrist braces. After a battery of painful tests and orthopaedic visits, I was fitted for a pair in the summer of 2009, and have worn them almost every night since. Chronic wrist problems: one of the many perils of being a plugged-in Millennial writer.
As we chatted, I tried to patiently wait for an opportunity to casually ask about his braces.The VA hospital had given them to him (apparently without instructions) because his undiagnosed diabetes had led to nerve damage and pain in his limbs. He was genuinely astounded when I suggested that they were on the wrong hands.
“See, this curve goes on the bottom not the top of the wrist, “ I said carefully. “Do you mind if I…?”
Gladly he gave me his hands, and together, laughing, we gingerly readjusted the braces.
Bonded over our bad bones, we continued on in jovial conversation. As we talked about our lives, every so often he would flex his hands and heartily exclaim they were already feeling better.
In spite of many pleasant visits with people living on the streets, I have often wondered if what I have to offer – a sandwich, 10 minutes, a smile – really makes a difference. I fear that I am not enough, that I don’t do enough, that I could never do enough. It is so easy for me to get overwhelmed by the suffering I see or even by the suffering I experience myself.
I’ve started to ruminate on how God uses our pain to connect with others. Specifically, I’ve noticed how hand ache and heartache and headache make me, frankly, miserable in the moment, but that those painful experiences have surprisingly prepared me to relate more compassionately to others. Maybe all the pain my life can result in some good – and that good is me. A me that is better prepared to accompany others.
Because of all the people who could have stopped for the man that night, it was me and my bum wrists who seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Because of my years of pain, I was able to ease his. Because of my raggedy braces, there was suddenly a space and common ground for two very different strangers to genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
That night I practically bounced home on the train I was so buoyed by the exchange. Comfort and joy. Hope and humanity. These are the gifts we give each other year round when we stop to take the time to share of ourselves.
Reflection question: How have painful moments in your life prepared you to share comfort and joy with others?