Friday, May 01, 2009

Acts of Kindness


In the past several weeks, I have learned once a again, that I should never judge another human being in whose shoes I have not walked. This point was driven home by an experience I had the other day. I'll get to it later, but first there's alot of background detail: The Douglas family lives in Illinois. They adopted a Marshallese toddler girl about 10 years ago. Unfortunately (unbeknownst to them) she had already contracted tuburculosis prior to the adoption, and struggled with significant health problems for the rest of her life. Despite challenges, she was the light of their lives, and her death two years ago was devastating. I met the Douglases when they were trying locate their daughter's birth family to share the sad news. Over the last 2 years, Kathy, Bruce and Lydia have helped to care for their daughter's siblings here in the Marshall Islands by sending money for school, packages with food and clothing and toys, and otherwise checking in from time to time to make sure things are ok. The father of the family has issues with alcoholism and abuse and it has tragic consequences for these kids. My friend Annie (a neighbor and "Auntie" to the kids) helps out as much as she can and every so often I check in as well.

Also living in my neighborhood (at the catholic church) is Lino, who suffers from schizophrenia. His story is also devastating. He was also adopted by an American family as a baby and grew up abroad. He served in the US Military and had a wife and child of his own. I'm not sure at what point his schizophrenia became an issue, but it caused alot of problems in their domestic life. It caused him to be violent at times. After one such domestic incident, he was arrested and deported to the Marshall Islands (since he never obtained US citizenship). Now at approximately age 30, he lives here on Majuro without family (I believe his birth mom is from Ebeye...not Majuro), without medical care, and without an ability to speak Marshallese. The parishoners at the catholic church give him food and he does some landscaping work (beautiful work actually) around the Assumption church and school. But our hospital and our community are not yet ready to cope with such extreme cases of mental illness. Most of the neighborhood believes that his bizarre and sometimes aggressive behavior is due to a "Black Magic" spell that his ex-wife cast on him. They do not acknowledge that this is a medical illness that can be treated.

I have had several experiences with Lino on my morning and evening walks to work at the college. Most of them are harmless, non-sensical conversational exchanges. He is obviously very intelligent because he talks about all kind of world events and people who are obscure to me, but he's in a different world entirely. One time while I was riding my bike he even chased me down the street yelling lyrics to an old Duran Duran song. His unpredictability makes him somewhat unapproachable, yet I'm sure he needs to feel acknowledged. So I've decided lately that when I see him, instead of avoiding what could be an aggressive confrontation, I will be the first to say hello and call him by name. Sometimes he ignores me, other times he acknowledges my hello. But the greatest thing is that he has not been confrontational since I started greeting him by name. Then yesterday, the coolest thing happened. I was making the trip home from CMI with two gigantic boxes that the Douglases had sent for their daughter's siblings. I was struggling under the weight of them, but I couldn't exactly leave one on the side of the road. As I began to cross by assumption, I put them down for a minute to take a rest. Lino approached me and offered to help. "Here," he said, "let me help you with that." I was so appreciative and impressed by his thoughtfulness. I asked how he was doing and he told me he was fine and that I really ought to introduce myself to (some guy whose name I didn't recognize). I asked him who that was and he said, "you know, the Texas cattle barron." "Oh, ok, I'll try." When we got to my house I thanked him and offered him a drink of water. He declined and went his way pretty quickly. This simple exchange reminded me of an important lesson. First, that I should not judge others, and second that there is goodness and kindness in all people, regardless of their situation, their past behavior, and regardless of appearance. I believe that if we allow others the opportunity, they will show it to us. I was grateful for Lino's simple act of charity toward me. Sometimes I get so caught up in serving other people that I forget to slow down and allow them to help me. It is through acts of service that I most poignantly give and recieve love, so this small act meant very much to me. I am grateful. And I hope that Lino's family out there knows that he's doing alright. That despite the complicated state of his life right now, he's doing ok, and he made a difference in my life this week. I also want to say that I am really grateful for the Douglas' example of generosity. During these tough economic times, there are many reasons not to be generous. But they have chosen to give of themselves, and it brightens the day of those children who do not get treats very often (just look at their faces in the pictures!). What a good experience to witness these things and be inspired by them!

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