The Goodness in Others; the Goodness in Me

Suzette and EliTwo years ago this month I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer – and started on a dark journey of hospitals, needles, chemotherapy, nausea, and pain.  I have been reflecting on this time as I pass the anniversary. The thing that stands out the most is how much goodness I saw in others as I struggled through.  It was remarkable to me at the time and continues to be a source of inspiration.

The people I knew well (close friends and family) banded together to form a shelter, so that I rarely worried about my next meal, a ride to the hospital, being alone, or even doing laundry.  My people were beyond generous with their time and resources – and I feel grateful for that every day.

But even outside of my own clan, goodness came to me from all kinds of strangers.  Because I was bald and walking slowly, most people could tell that I was going through some sort of treatment.  I noticed that people smiled at me more and this seemed a sign of solidarity against the great enemy of humankind:  cancer.  Many people approached me to wish me well and give me their prayers.  Waiters and store clerks often discounted items; others (strangers to me) picked up my tab.  Women let me go ahead of them in bathroom lines, teenagers carried my bags, and taxi drivers dismissed charges.  It was astonishing – and wonderful.  I can only imagine that they did these things because they saw “one among them” who was obviously struggling and going through a difficult time.  It was heartening.  I will forever believe in the goodness of humankind because of this experience.

Now that I am well and have hair again, I often wish that we had more “outward” signs of our struggles:  wearing some black clothing when a loved one has died, keeping on hospital wrist bands when going through treatment, donning a special necklace when we’re looking for a job, etc.  There are so many trouble and trials all around us – and yet, we move through the grocery store, the local diner, and the office halls without seeing.

Since my own experience with goodness, I have worked harder to let me know own goodness come out.  I want my humanity to show!  I try to let people go ahead of me when they appear agitated, I give grace to those who drive too slow in the wrong lane (I remember my out-of-town family trying to find their way to hospitals on confusing roads), I smile at the parents with crying children and say “it’s OK, they don’t bother me”, and I push all three shopping carts back to the rack (I remember when I could not push anything).

Seeing goodness in others and finding more of it in myself – makes this life experience a little smoother and a little lighter.

How do you show your goodness to others?


Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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14 Responses

  1. MargaretOH says:

    Suzette, this is so beautiful and inspiring. One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that I’m better at helping and being kind to others when I’ve been through a similar experience. It’s not just that I can empathize and it strikes deeper (although I’m sure that is, unfortunately, a part), it’s that the experience gives me better, more concrete ideas of what I can do. I see the needs and know exactly what was helpful for me. Instead of saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do. . .” I say, “I’m going to pick up your kids and take them to my house for the day. Don’t argue.”

    But I wish that I was different and could see beyond the limits of my own experiences. I’d love to be one of those wonderful people who seem to be able to imagine and realize others’ needs and insert themselves in the most helpful ways. Those are people I admire enormously.

  2. cchrissyy says:

    This is really interesting, I don’t know what to say, but my 2nd grader had cancer this year and this summer his hair is just starting to grow back, it’s super short and fuzzy but I think to strangers it probably doesn’t stand out because people aren’t acting as accommodating or respectful or something, whatever it was different before in how people treated us when he was bald or wearing a mask or using a wheelchair. So, I don’t know my point except that I’m noticing it too. And the fact is, that ordeal was really visible. Other serious pain, other life-and-death worries are invisible. I could honestly use more of that extra consideration right now but it’s not forthcoming. People are good but they’re not *that* nice, or *that* helpful, all the time, not unless you ask.

  3. Jessawhy says:

    I love this post, Suzette! What a wonderful reminder that our goodness is waiting inside to bless others.
    Thank you for sharing this, it warms my heart 🙂

  4. Caroline says:

    This made me tear up, Suzette! I loved reading about all the ways these strangers were so kind to you when you were at your lowest. I too wish we could know when others were suffering and needing some kindness. I think someone once said something like, “treat every person you meet as if they were suffering terrible grief.” Your post is a very good reminder of that.

    • MargaretOH says:

      I think you’re thinking of Henry B. Eyring from his talk “In the Strength of the Lord” in 2004: “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.”

  5. Susie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this, it was just what I needed to hear today. This brought the spirit more than anything else this sabbath- if we realize what each of our brothers and sisters may be going through we will be so much more compassionate. Just beautiful.

  6. Heather says:

    You are so full of goodness. This filled me with a desire to love others more fully. Thank you dear one.

  7. Liz says:

    I love this – it gave me hope for humanity, which I needed today. Thank you.

  8. Ellie says:

    I so wish there were a way to outwardly express some of these trials. A friend of mine had died while I was away and had no funeral clothes; I went to the mall to look for something black (in the summer) that didn’t look skanky. It was incredibly difficult and all the cheerful salesclerks kept asking me, “can I help you with anything? What can I do for ya?”. I so wanted to say, “I just need a black dress for a funeral” but couldn’t get that out and deal with any of their emotions. I’m sure there are other examples where some marker would be useful.

  9. Cruelest Month says:

    Thank you for this lovely reminder of the goodness in others. I feel inspired!

  10. Jenny says:

    Beautiful post Suzette! It made me want to open my eyes even wider to search for others who are suffering without any outward signs of it.

  11. Ziff says:

    Thanks for this sweet post, Suzette. I really like your idea of having some way to communicate when we’re struggling more often, because like you experienced, others are often happy to help.

  12. Melody says:

    This is among my all time favorite essays. Ever. Suzette, you’re a gift. Thank you for this reminder about our humanity and how vulnerable we are. All of us. Really, really beautiful thoughts here. . . I’ll take them with me.

  1. July 27, 2014

    […] But even outside of my own clan, goodness came to me from all kinds of strangers. Because I was bald and walking slowly, most people could tell that I was going through some sort of treatment. I noticed that people smiled at me more and this seemed a sign of solidarity against the great enemy of humankind: cancer. Many people approached me to wish me well and give me …read more […]

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