New Possibilities. New Realities.
“Could I help you get your things up to the boardwalk?”
He asked us that last month, as we were packing up to leave the beach late that Sunday afternoon, during our annual week in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He’d obviously noticed us, and had been watching from his spot several yards down the beach. It isn’t often that others ask if they could help – and we don’t have expectations that people would or even should be expected to help. We’re able to handle it on our own after all these years. But, honestly, it is nice when they do, and if they follow our lead on what works best, it is very helpful.
“Absolutely!,” I replied. “That would be wonderful. We’d really appreciate that.”
“Is this your son?, he asked. “What’s his name?”
“Yes, he is. He’s Matthew.”
“What do I need to do to best help you?”
It was a beautiful question. Sensitive, empathetic, and generous.
“He can’t walk on his own and needs two people, one on either side of him, holding on tightly to slowly walk him through the sand up to the boardwalk and to his wheelchair. Your help would make it so much easier for us.”
So, together we patiently helped Matthew painstakingly walk over the sand and into his chair. Then he declared,
“I’ll help you and your wife with your chairs, umbrella, and cart, too.”
And he did.
I found out his name – Bill, where he was staying – in the same hotel and condominium complex we were, and where he lived – it turns out just 12 miles from where we live in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
We thanked him profusely, telling him how very much his help was appreciated, and then he promised,
“My wife and I are here all week. I’ll keep my eye out for you and I’m happy to help you get on and off the beach every day if you’d like.”
We were deeply touched by his offer – and his incredible thoughtfulness. In all of our years getting Matthew on and off the beach, no fellow beach-goer – no stranger – was that openly kind.
And for the following four days that he and his wife were on the beach, Bill came right up to us as we stepped off the boardwalk and onto the handicap accessible ramp through the dunes and onto the sand when we arrived on the beach for the day. As soon as we started to put down our umbrella at the end of each afternoon, Bill popped up and came right over to us to help get Matthew and all our beach paraphernalia, so much of it necessary for Matthew, back up to the boardwalk.
It was more helpful and time-saving than we can even begin to express.
And all the while, on our slow and deliberate walks supporting Matthew, Bill and I got to know things about each other – and maybe why he was so caring and compassionate about our circumstances.
Weekly, for most of the 10 years since we created Someone To Tell It To, Tom and I have listened to the public radio conversation and interview show, “On Being”, hosted by Krista Tippett. She and her varied and fascinating guests have some of the most riveting and prescient conversations about life, the human spirit, and hope in a disturbingly painful, harsh world. Ms. Tippett’s calm, quiet and soothing voice lends itself to a feeling of safety and peace as she and her guests contemplate our times, laden with its myriad fears and seemingly intractable dilemmas – and the profound anxieties they produce. We love her style. We love her guests. We love the more hopeful, peaceful way we feel after listening to the “On Being” podcast each week.
The New York Times Magazine interviewed Krista Tippett in this past Sunday’s edition, as she shared about a new podcast series she is creating for later this year. One concept in her interview stood out most to us – the idea of “generative possibilities”. A favorite phrase of Ms. Tippett’s is the “generative landscape of our time”. The interviewer – David Marchese – asked her about what it means to her, the possibilities in the “generative landscape of our times”.
In reply, she contrasted it with the “dysfunctional landscape of our time”, which she posited is “very well publicized”. Ms. Tippett believes that throughout our world, there are people working “generatively with the challenges before us, creating new possibilities and realities”. She believes that those possibilities and realities are just as important to talk and write about as everyone pointing out all that is seemingly “failing and corrupt and catastrophic”. We agree.
Creating new possibilities and realities.
That’s what we are also trying to do through Someone To Tell It To.
The way the world is – it’s dysfunction, it’s destruction, and it’s relational disconnection – is not the way the world is meant to be, we believe. How so many of us are forced to live – in loneliness, poverty of resources and of spirit, at war with one another, filled with rage and judgment, devoid of empathy and consideration for the well-being of those who are different – is not the way that leads to an abundant and meaningful life. We cannot allow ourselves to be seduced by the problems and imperfections of life and the world around us, and believe that it can’t get better, that it can’t be better.
We believe that it can get better, that it can be better, and that we all have a role to play to create the context for a better world.
The interaction that Kathy and I experienced with Bill on the beach last month was a microcosm of how the world indeed does get better. It’s each one of us – just as Bill did for us and our precious son Matthew – stepping up to ask what we can best do to help, when we see someone who is in need of support, of kindness, of care. It may seem small and insignificant in the vastness of this world. But it’s not. It’s priceless, poignant, penetrating. Our hearts will be forever grateful for Bill’s kindness and his generosity of spirit that lifted us on the beach that week. We’ll never forget it. We’ll never forget Bill.
And, what did I learn about what was possibly undergirding Bill’s caring and compassionate spirit and acts of kindness for Matthew and us? As with each new day’s walk together, each one of us holding up and guiding Matthew as he entered and exited the beach, I learned more and more about Bill and his story.
He told me that when he was a young child, nine months old, his parents left him with his grandparents to raise him – and never came back. He was eternally grateful for their love and stability in his life. When they got old and had trouble caring for themselves before they died, Bill took care of them as they did for him all those years when he was vulnerable and in need. He never forgot or took for granted how they nurtured an effectively orphaned boy. Bill and his wife never were able to have children of their own. I may never know how many other children and vulnerable people he helped and showed love to throughout his life. But during that beautiful June beach week, Bill cared for our child, and by extension, for Kathy and me in a remarkably kind way. It was simple. And it went a long, long way toward making the week something so special and memorable.
That’s exactly how new possibilities and realities are created and made. Simple acts of kindness such as Bill’s make this world into the better place it’s meant to be.