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To the Stranger in Starbucks Whose Kindness Showed Me What Matters Most

Yesterday I woke up with a heaviness inside my soul I thought would rid itself after a good night’s sleep. After having a physically and emotionally exhausting day the day before, I thought for sure the anger and frustration I was feeling was just a result of the fact that I was tired and hungry. Instead, I started my day feeling the same way I felt going to bed the night before: defeated and drained.

I went back and forth with the idea of writing this post. I’m not the kind of person to sulk and feel sorry for myself nor do I want others feeling that way towards me. But just like many writers can attest to, writing is my form of therapy. It allows me to think more clearly and gain a sense of relief as I type these words to share with the world.

So, before I begin to chronicle my thoughts and experiences within last 48 hours, I hope you understand this isn’t a post meant to draw attention to my shortcomings. What you’re about to read is a snapshot of my life living with a horrible degenerative disease, yet surrounded by something it can never take away: love.

A couple of days ago was my annual appointment for my disease, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a day in which I spend hours in a room at Boston Children’s Hospital and teams of doctors come in to discuss my needs and measure the progression of my disease. Or as I like to put it — it’s a day in which a group of doctors basically discuss, in the nicest, most delicate and intelligent way possible, how your disease is destroying your life.

Now, I must say how truly fortunate I am to be a patient among the best doctors in the world. I trust their judgments and respect their decisions, as I understand they know and want what is best for my well-being. However, this makes hearing what they have to say all the more difficult. Because I trust them. Because I know their expert medical advice and guidance is only going to help me. But it’s still a lot to swallow. And I’m not sure I’m ready to make such life-altering decisions.

I left the hospital that night feeling envious. I envied the person walking in the lobby who was able to eat a meal and not worry about being under nourished. I envied the valet man who had the strength in his lungs to yell to his co-worker from across the way. I envied the surgeon who had the strength in his hands and feet to save someone’s life. I envied anyone and everyone not living with SMA that night, and couldn’t shake the feeling. So, I went to bed.

I woke up still feeling pretty crummy, but I eventually forced myself out of the house with a friend to keep my mind occupied. In an attempt to drown my worries with copious amounts of coffee, I found myself in line at a Starbucks getting my third cup of the day. Suddenly, a woman approached me and said, “Hi! Remember me?”

She was a petite woman with kind eyes, and radiated a kind of energy that made you feel at peace. Despite the fact that I am my mother’s daughter and have a terrible memory, I recognized her immediately. She was the stranger I met in Dunkin Donuts at Christmastime: the stranger who gave me a $100 bill.

“What a lovely surprise! Of course I remember you,” I exclaimed as we exchanged a hug and a kiss. We spent a few minutes catching up, and before she returned to her table, she handed me $100 more. As hard as I tried to refuse the gesture and explain her kindness at Christmas was more than enough, she said, “You deserve this more than I do. By the way, my name is Cookie.”

I watched Cookie return to her table before ordering my coffee. After I gave the barista my order, I turned around a second later to continue talking to the woman at her table, and she was gone. Not a single trace of Cookie in sight. I looked at my friend, slightly confused while still in a state somewhere between shock and awe.

“Where did she…?” “How did she…?” “Why did she…?”

I couldn’t seem to form a complete sentence. I took a long pause and finally said to my friend, “I think… she’s an actual angel.”

In that very moment, I found the clarity I so desperately needed when I woke up that morning. It wasn’t sleep or food or wallowing I needed to move past the inevitable disappointing realities I faced the day before. It was Cookie and her innate ability to demonstrate kindness to someone she hardly knew. Through her kindness, I was reminded of all the love that surrounds me each and every day and how fortunate I am to be in the position I’m currently in. SMA can take away my muscles, but it can never take away the love that fills my life. And that’s really all I’ll ever need to keep moving forward.

Cookie, wherever you are and whoever you may be, thank you for being an angel here on earth. You will never know how deeply your kindness has affected me and how close I hold you to my heart. Until we meet again, dear friend…

Image by Endrjuch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.