Tuesday, January 13, 2015

True Colors and the Kindness of Strangers

I love rain. I love the sound of rain. Especially in the winter. However, I have a strange frustration with it this time. 

When it rains, it means there is no progress being done at the construction site for the house. Still, when it's 1000 degrees this summer, I'll wish for days like this. We just better be wishing for it IN the new house!

Anyway, I spoke at church last Sunday. Yes, I used the same talk from when I spoke in Queen Creek last July. (And in the hallway afterwards, Mikelle was quick to loudly point that out...) Sure, it may sound lazy, but the real reason is I loved one of the stories/accounts within it.  I won't paste my whole talk - just the part leading up to the story and a few comments following it. It doesn't matter how many times I read the story, it chokes me up each time. And reading it aloud from the pulpit? I broke down at the same part at the end. 

(I wasn't able to find the original link to the story, but here is a re-print of it in Readers Digest as I slightly edited down my version in the interest of time...)

(beginning of talk excerpt) 

Essential to our personal faith and development is the unmistakable knowledge that our Father and our Savior want us to succeed. It it may not feel like that at time, but they do. 

Because of their love for us, they have given us resources to obtain comfort, direction, and strength for our journey home.

Bishop Davies (who is the Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric) also goes on to point out that is important to understand that blessings often accompany our challenges.

For example, those who suffer pain and afflictions are often better able to understand and have compassion and sympathy for others who similarly suffer.

Sometimes the blessings come from unexpected avenues, and lessons are to be learned about compassion, judgment and kindness that can go on for years.

One very poignant example of this is a story I read last year by Dana Reinhardt, a writer from Los Angeles. She recalls an experience from the early 1990s when she was in her early 20s. Her essay is titled: “The Kindness of Strangers”

She says:
I’m willing to go out on a limb here and guess that most stories of kindness do not begin with drug addicted celebrity bad boys.

Mine does.
His name is Robert Downey Jr.

It was at a garden party for the ACLU of Southern California where my stepmother was the executive director.

I was escorting my grandmother. There isn’t enough room in this essay to explain to you everything she was. I would need volumes, so for the sake of time I will tell you that she was beautiful even in her eighties, vain as the day is long, and whip smart, though her particular sort of intelligence did not encompass recognizing young celebrities.

Early 90s Robert Downey Jr...
I pointed out Robert Downey Jr. to her when he arrived, in a gorgeous cream-colored linen suit My grandmother shrugged, far more interested in piling her paper plate with various unidentifiable cheeses cut into cubes. After all, he wasn’t Carey Grant or Gregory Peck. What did she care?

The afternoon’s main honoree was Ron Kovic, whose story of his time in the Vietnam War that had left him confined to a wheelchair.

I mention the wheelchair because it played an unwitting role in what happened next.

Ron Kovic took the podium, and he was mesmerizing, and when it was all over we stood up to leave, and my grandmother tripped.

We’d been sitting in the front row (nepotism has its privileges) and when she tripped she fell smack into the wheelchair ramp that provided Ron Kovic with access to the stage. I didn’t know that wheelchair ramps have sharp edges, but they do, at least this one did, and it sliced her shin right open. 

The volume of blood was staggering.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I raced into action; that I quickly took control of the situation, tending to my grandmother and calling for the ambulance that was so obviously needed, but I didn’t. I sat down and put my head between my knees because I thought I was going to faint. Did I mention the blood?

Luckily, somebody did take control of the situation, and that person was Robert Downey Jr.

He ordered someone to call an ambulance. Another to bring a glass of water. Another to fetch a blanket. He took off his gorgeous linen jacket and he rolled up his sleeves and he grabbed hold of my grandmother’s leg, and then he took that jacket that I’d assumed he’d taken off only to it keep out of the way, and he tied it around her wound. I watched the cream colored linen turn scarlet with her blood.

He told her not to worry. He told her it would be alright. He knew, instinctively, how to speak to her, how to distract her, how to play to her vanity. He held onto her calf and he whistled. He told her how stunning her legs were.

She said to him, to my humiliation: “My granddaughter tells me you’re a famous actor but I’ve never heard of you.”

He stayed with her until the ambulance came and then he walked alongside the stretcher holding her hand and telling her she was breaking his heart by leaving the party so early, just as they were getting to know each other. He waved to her as they closed the doors.

Believe it or not, I hurried into the ambulance without saying a word. I was too embarrassed and too shy to thank him.

We all have things we wish we’d said. Moments we’d like to return to and do differently. Rarely do we get that chance to make up for those times that words failed us.

But I did. Many years later.

I should mention here that when Robert Downey Jr. was in prison for being a drug addict, I thought of writing to him. Of reminding him of that day when he was humanity personified. When he was the best of what we each can be. When he was the kindest of strangers.

But I didn’t.

Some fifteen years after that garden party, ten years after my grandmother had died and five since he’d been released from prison, I saw him in a restaurant.

I grew up in Los Angeles where celebrity sightings are commonplace and where I was raised to respect people’s privacy and never bother someone while they’re out having a meal, but on this day I decided to abandon the code, and my own shyness, and I approached his table.

I said to him, “I don’t have any idea if you remember this…” and I told him the story.
He remembered.

“I just wanted to thank you,” I said. “And I wanted to tell you that it was simply the kindest act I’ve ever witnessed.”

He stood up and he took both of my hands in his and he looked into my eyes and he said:

“You have absolutely no idea how much I needed to hear that today.”

I’m rather confident that when Robert Downey Jr helped Dana’s grandmother that day 20 years ago, he never expected or knew how the experience would in turn bless him some 2 decades later. But it clearly did, based on his response to Dana when she thanked him.

Sunday Doodle from 1/14/15
The Lord knows the end from the beginning. And in our personal search for support and assistance, there is one, even Jesus Christ, who can help us. He has offered his sweet counsel. “Come Unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meet and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

Does the Lord give us challenges in life that are intended to impede us? No. When we face test and trials, let us ask these questions:

“What can I learn from this experience?”
“How will this experience strengthen me and help me prepare for the future?”

(end of talk excerpt)

Sure, I have a Robert Downey Jr bias (it is pretty obvious if you're one of the 5 people that read my blog and have been even remotely paying attention), but whether you are or aren't a fan of Robert Downey Jr, there's a man behind the Iron Man suit, and yes, his past is full of skeletons. But don't we all have skeletons? Despite our limitations and mistakes, our true character is there. RDJ's was certainly shown in the account above. 

Until next time...

1 comment:

  1. Love your blog. You have great insights into life.