In Defense of Kindness (For Donna)
I found out last evening that the administrator for my master’s program from which I graduated from passed away from cancer. It came as a shock to me, because she never once mentioned cancer to me. She kept it to herself, and apparently, only a few people knew. My mother always told me this proverb as a child, “True strength lies in gentleness.” If that is indeed the case, then Donna was one of the strongest people that I ever knew.
I remember heading out to Pittsburgh for the first time. I was 24 at the time, and already a man grown, but still, having grown up on the East Coast my whole life, putting myself in the midwest for a stretch was definitely a big change. Pittsburgh is not the most inviting city, but Donna took time out of her schedule to make sure that I was settling in alright, and that I wasn’t missing home too much. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only person that she looked out for, but whenever she took me aside for a bit to check on me, it made me feel that much better.
Those visits with Donna stick out so vividly because I don’t think you really forget a kindness, or least you should never forget a kindness. Our society has shied away from kindness as a virtue and looks upon it as a weakness more often than not. We’re taught to be kind as kids, but as adults, more often than not, we take advantage of kindness, especially from strangers. That is always what set Donna apart from so many other people that I knew, her kindness was not a projection, but simply a reflection of who she truly was. She was stern when she needed to be, but it never came from a place of malice, just a matter of necessity. She might not have held the title, but everyone really knew who held our program together, and it was undoubtedly Donna. I remember ducking out of class a bit early or getting to the building a bit early so I could shoot the shit with her, and that’s what I’ll remember. Every conversation we had, she remembered, and would always keep pushing me and find some way to help me out. I know that she’s irreplaceable, and will be missed by the hundreds of students who she’s helped along their way.
I wonder why she kept her condition to herself. I know that she would not have wanted the pity, but I think in some way, it was her last and final way of expressing her kindness. I believe In some small way she was protecting us all from the heartache of us knowing that she was suffering, because I don’t believe anyone in our program would’ve felt anything less than that. She will be missed, but more importantly, she will be remembered for her kindness, which is a testament to her character.
Donna would always send us emails reminding us of various functions, forms we needed to hand in, or just a holiday greeting. At the end of the email her signature always contained this quote:
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”
I know that I will fail to live up to that more often than not, but the times that I do, I know that Donna had a part in my living up to her example.
Rest easy Donna, you will be missed.