A few summers ago I was struggling financially, and as a result, I developed a severe ulcer. Then I found out I had cancer on my nose and would need reconstructive surgery. But the worst was yet to come: the man I loved left me—without a word, without any warning. This combination of events was too much for me: I spiraled down into a vicious depression so all-consuming I could hardly move. It boiled down to this: if the world could be so heartless and cruel, I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.
My support team did what they could—my therapist phoned me every day, my psychopharmacologist prescribed drug after endless drug, my best friend listened to me moan. But I was so shocked by the savage nature of the universe, I couldn’t understand why anyone who loved me wouldn’t just let me die.
Life doesn’t care if you’re suicidal. The gas bill needs to be paid regardless; the body still needs to be fed. That summer, in my writing group, I casually wrote about a dilemma I was facing at the time: I could either buy groceries or medication, but not both. I didn’t write this seeking help, I was just cataloguing a fact of my life.
A couple of days later I received a card in the mail from my group with a check large enough to get me past my dilemma. I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do. I was stunned and perplexed and deeply touched. I wasn’t sure what the proper protocol was for taking money from friends. But desperation trumps protocol every time, and I quickly cashed the check.
A week later there was a knock at my door. I opened it to a deliveryman bearing a glorious bunch of white lilies. They were from a person who knew I was severely depressed, because I kept cancelling our lunch plans. Getting flowers is always great, but these were extraordinary because there was no special occasion, and they were a custom bouquet. The sender knew from reading my book Manic that white lilies mean the world to me. Every day I inhaled that lovely fragrance, I felt a little farther from death.
Shortly after that I ran into a man I hadn’t seen in years. He asked me how I was, and I didn’t have the energy to edit: I told him the truth. It turned out he was suffering too, and by unspoken consensus we stepped into a nearby café and spent the next two hours commiserating. For once, I got to say everything I wanted and someone listened and gave a damn. As the day slipped tranquilly into night, I could feel my heart begin to heal.
Money, flowers, and an open ear: random acts of kindness performed not for gain or advantage, but simply because someone cared enough to make the effort. It made me realize something essential, the man who left me may have been cruel, but he was only one man. The world itself is capable of great compassion, and that’s a world I want to live in.
So find a need. Surprise someone with your benevolence. You’ll not only reap the karma, you may just rewrite a life.