Many of you wrote to me last week about my article on Random Acts of Kindness. Most people agreed that it is the “doer” of the good deed who reaps the most benefit. One reader remarked that when we are supposed to do something and don’t, it weighs heavily on us. I started paying more attention to areas where I can help because of a terribly painful experience when I chose not to help.
It was this tragedy that woke me up to the realization that I don’t have to save the world, I just need to act when something comes across my path. Choosing to ignore helping someone because it is inconvenient will weigh heavily on us for the rest of our lives. This is what happened to me. The searing pain of living with the knowledge that I could have saved a little innocent kitten, but walked away instead, has always haunted me. But it also changed the course of my life.
About 25 years ago, I went along with my sister to visit her friend’s pottery studio in the coastal town of Half Moon Bay where I lived. On the fence was an abandoned kitten, sneezing and shivering. My sister’s friend said she was hoping someone would come along and take care of her. I secretly wondered why she wasn’t taking her in but didn’t know her well enough to suggest the possibility.
Being a life-long lover of cats, I yearned to take her. The resistance I had came from my (former) husband who was allergic to, and hated cats — always a bone of contention between us. In those days I was a total people-pleaser, afraid of rocking the boat in my already rocky marriage. Feeling horribly torn but too spineless to do what I knew was right, I walked away.
The searing guilt of not having taken the kitten tore me up inside. I prayed continually that someone else would come along to help, trying to justify to myself my “impossible” situation. I finally called my sister and asked if she knew anything about the kitten. She told me that her friend called and said that it had crawled up into a truck engine that night to get warm and suffered a gruesome death the next day.
The news hit me like a body blow. How could this happen?, I railed at the universe. Why didn’t you send someone to help? I then heard the answer loud and clear, “I did send someone, and it was you.” It was for me to do, and I walked away. And because of my cowardice she was dead.