The Ohio State University Medical Center has a laid back, polite and supportive culture.
My family has said that I match the Asperger’s profile but back then the term was “weird” and the treatment was peer harassment. I waited out the torment of high school only to get more in college. I handled the academics well but had no idea how to deal with people. I dropped out to get money to go back to school. I was extremely depressed, had no friends and didn’t know how to make them.
I took a job working security on the night shift in the hospital. There was this woman who worked as a night admitting clerk on the midnight shift maybe seven years older than I was. I could talk to her. She let me drain out all my frustration, make my mistakes, and build the inner models necessary to function in society, the things most people learn by osmosis in their early teens. I had to learn them painfully, in full consciousness. I never had dealings with her outside of work, and of course there would never be anything between us. Still — she was patient, and encouraging.
Looking back, had I been her, I wouldn’t have taken the risks she took in helping me to open up. Troubled young men can be dangerous. It still amazes me what she did for me. I just wanted to die, at the time, to end the pain, but knowing I would hear her voice kept me going for a year. I was able to write to her, for a short time after that. I still have her letters; they are encouraging.
She moved on and I have no idea where she is now, or if she’s even alive. It took me a while to figure out that she had simply shown me kindness out of the goodness of her heart, and a lot of it, exactly when I needed it.
Mike Dooley has noted that kindness gets passed on, from person to person, forever. It is true. I take every opportunity I can to pass on her kindness to me. I try to pay it forward. I can never repay her even 1/1000 of what she did for me. She gave me the gift of life and a positive outlook on it. She was as much a spiritual master as anyone I’ve studied with.
Mark Twain once said you might be the only Bible some people ever read; I read it in her behavior. Some today might say you might be the only spiritual master some people ever see. I have had a lot of stress in my life since, but I handle it better than people around me. Mother Theresa said that one never knows how much a simple smile, and kindness, can do. I mentor young folks nowadays, in whatever way they will accept, passing on her kindness.
My parents are gone now; they were important teachers — and this woman did as much for me as my parents did. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I am a veteran and saw some rough things in my time, things I just can’t share with civilians. They have no frame of reference. Yet having seen an angel enfleshed, I knew I could outlast them, and I did.
My body is breaking down now. I’m on disability, though I still work full-time. I walk with crutches or even a walker, now, and it is painful to get out of bed, or even walk. The VA has been helpful, when I can get to them.
I wish that I could thank the woman who helped me. She would never recognize herself in this story. her attitude was always that she just did what was right in the moment. She helped others. I am sure she has forgotten me. That’s ok. Her kindness has been passed on at every opportunity since, most especially to my children and wife. I have a second grandchild on the way. I cannot repay her, but I can pay it forward. And I do, at every opportunity. I have passed on her kindness several thousand times, at least. I have given people tears of joy, with kindness, just as she did for me. I am still clumsy, but it doesn’t matter. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for Columbus, OH.