I met Adolph in the fall of 2001. I was a 25 year old seminary intern, and he was a 101 year old man living independently in his own apartment. My job was to visit and bring him communion. Every visit I would prepare myself for what had become our usual greeting:
Me: Hello, Adolph! How are you doing?
It seemed to me that my perky, enthusiastic 25 year old self didn’t make a dent in his mood. It didn’t matter what scriptures I read, what we talked about, or what prayers we prayed. He was tired of being alive and saw no point in talking about much of anything other than the fact that he was still around and that that didn’t seem to be changing and he wasn’t happy about it. This back and forth would cause me so much anxiety that I had no idea what to say or do except to realize that I was, quite frankly, out of my league.
I used every listening skill, caring question, and pastoral posture I had learned up to that point and still, Adolph felt terrible and so did I. One day, maybe out of desperation or maybe because our conversation was going nowhere, I asked him if there was anything I could help him with around the apartment. He considered my question and said, “Can you get me a haircut?” Adolph had amazing hair, regal even. It was full and thick and bright white. It was impressive at any age but especially at his. I told him I’d figure that out (a skill not taught at seminary, by the way) and get back to him.
We had a lovely church council member named Diane who ran her own neighborhood beauty shop, and she graciously agreed to come with me during my next visit to give Adolph an at-home haircut. Success! The day came for our “haircut with communion and prayer” visit, or “communion and prayer with a haircut.” (I was never sure of the priority of that visit.) Anyway, it was a day I would never forget. Diane took her time tending to Adolph’s mane and his face transformed before my eyes. As she washed, trimmed, and combed, her skill and the pure kindness of her touch seemed to soften Adolph. He shared more about his life than I had heard in the previous months’ visits combined, and I even got him to laugh.
I often think about those visits (pre and post haircuts, which became regular parts of my visits) and I see what 25 year old me couldn’t then. Adolph didn’t need his mood changed, he didn’t need to be talked out of feeling terrible, he didn’t need fixing. He just needed kindness. And that day kindness looked like a fresh haircut. What does kindness look like to you today? Maybe it is a phone call, or letting someone in line in front of you, or a wave to a neighbor, or a text of appreciation. Maybe it’s writing a thank you note, or helping someone with a chore or task that is difficult for them. Maybe it is just listening without trying to fix a problem. Today I invite you to pay attention and name kindness when you experience it, and listen to how the Spirit is using you to spread kindness in the world.
In Peace, Pastor Ruth
Let us pray:
Lead us, Gracious God, and shape us by the grace of Christ and the inspiration of your Holy Spirit. Open our hearts to expand our understanding of love and kindness, that we may grow in our ability to reflect your love and kindness to those we meet this day. All this we ask in the name of Christ, Amen.