There are some unpleasant human experiences, the further they recede in our memory, the less unpleasant their memory seems to be. There are others which when we recall them, the more we recoil from them. For me one such experience is the pandemic of 2019 to, well, to when? I have just recovered from my second only dose of Covid 19. Neither it, nor its predecessor in 2022, was particularly problematic – but both brought back ghosts which I would rather not have visiting me.

We are now three years on from what was for me an image from the apocalypse – Pope Francis standing in an empty and rain-drenched St. Peter’s Square addressing us in prayer for an end to the suffering this disaster had brought upon the world. Today that image has a disturbing power it did not even have then

But there was a counter-balancing image which seems to soften some of the horror of the overall memory, providing a shining and hopeful light in that dark time. That light helped to obliterate at least some of the darkness brought into our lives by the pandemic of 2020. More wonderfully, moreover, that light is still with us and by the grace of God is rooted in our very humanity.

The BBC reported in that most cruel of Aprils:

“Residents in Spain and Italy have shown their gratitude to health personnel on the coronavirus frontline by applauding from their windows. The nationwide events were coordinated in the locked- down countries through social media. BBC News has also been contacted via comments on our Instagram page  to report the same thing happening in Portugal, an hour after Spain.”

In Terence Malick’s film, The Thin Red Line, one of the most probing examinations on film of the horrors of war, the young bewildered Private Witt, temporarily goes AWOL among the peaceful Melanesian people. He reflects on the contrast between their tranquil lives and the war from which he has just tried to escape. He looks at the sky, and in a voice-over asks “Where does all this evil come from?” We know from whence it comes.

The evidence of the human response to the suffering inflicted on the world by the 2020 pandemic can also move us to ask, “Where did all that kindness come from?” But that would be the wrong question. The question we need to ask is “How does all that human kindness keep coming, remain in our midst year after year, decade after decade, from Florence Nightingale and beyond right into every moment of our lived experience?”

Illness, hospitalisation, the needs we have for care in the home are constantly responded to by the hundreds of thousands of people who have been moved to enter the caring professions. These are the people dedicated to the tasks entailed in providing for our health and well-being. They are a reminder to us that this kindness is not a flash in a pandemic. It is there, wonderfully manifested, day and night, seven days a week and 365 days in each year.

A very personal experience, in fact I should say a collection of personal experiences have moved me to put my thoughts on this near miracle together in these few paragraphs. Those experiences, a kind of perfect storm of health related issues, have been the occasion for my having to visit several health and hospital facilities over the past four months – a general practice clinic, scanning facilities, a health insurance assessment facility, an emergency department in a big public hospital, and a private hospital for orthopaedic surgery.1

In all cases not only were my immediate issues dealt with in an utterly professional way, but my faith in the inherent goodness of human nature was reaffirmed in such a positive way that the daily and depressing grind of negative news and opinion being churned out through mainstream media was totally neutralised for me.

It seems that people who dedicate their lives to the care of others may be and appear to be consistently happier than others whose preoccupations take them in very different directions. Furthermore, their happiness is infectious.

In the course of my seven days in  hospital for surgery I considered it a privilege to be in a room beside the busy nurses’ station. One might expect that the noise and chatter from there might be a problem. It was not. The joy communicated from the constant conversation made me ask myself, “Why are all these people so happy?” There was only one answer – and this was that the essential goodness of the work to which they had dedicated their lives helped them be so.

My visit to the emergency department, totally unrelated to my surgery, was a further revelation. It compelled me to email the director of the department afterwards with these words:

“Last Wednesday I attended the emergency department on a referral from 360VHI in Carrickmines. I just wanted to register my total satisfaction with the reception and treatment I received.” I added, “Not only was I reassured that I was in good hands but I was also deeply moved by the kindness and courtesy to other patients which I saw all around me as I went through the phases of my own examination. For all that, thank you very much.”

I know that all this is somewhat personal, and for that I beg your forbearance. But there is also a universal dimension. I could not bring myself to hide this light under a bushel, nor restrict my expression of appreciation to my circle of friends. Above all I felt compelled in justice to bring to all our attention that the wonderful manifestation of kindness shown amid the horrors of the pandemic was not just a “once off” but is with us every day of the year throughout our country and throughout the world.

We do not need to sing the praises of our fellow humans from our balconies every day, but we must never forget to celebrate in our hearts this constant flow of kindness into our lives. Those of us with faith in the Holy Spirit once learned and know it for a truth that among the fruits which flow from His gifts are both kindness and joy. In my few months of relative health problems I know that through all those who have helped me cope with those, I have been touched by both.

King David knew this as he sang over 3000 years ago:

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, Surely goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life….”

They will. They do.

This article was first posted in Position Papers on: 1 May 2023 

Written by: Michael Kirke as a contribution to his monthly column, In Passing

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