Spend a day in a surgery waiting room and you’ll witness a
hundred quiet acts of mercy.
Strangers gather for a host of reasons with a common cause: to
sit beneath the slowest clock and wait it out. They make calls, utter prayers
and flip through magazines, and in their anxiety, they extend morsels of
compassion: smiles and small talk, directions to the cafeteria and tips on its
offerings. One person shown the way by someone slightly less new, flashes of
humanity while loved ones down the hall are put under.
The mercy at one Minneapolis hospital, where I spent a recent
Thursday as my husband’s elbow was reassembled, began with this text: “Surgery
started. Everything going well.” Five words to make you feel oriented and
relieved, the optional last three abounding in kindness.
A 60-something couple across from me hunkered down for their
daughter’s four-hour surgery, a double mastectomy. A toddler behind them
sprawled across her grandpa, staring at the fish tank. A camouflage-clad
college student wanted to know where his dad would be recovering overnight. A
collared 40-something paced and repeatedly checked on his wife’s status.
We were told we would be notified as soon as any information
became available, but people could not wait. The women behind the front desk
responded with grace, promising to look into each query and let them know as
soon as they learned more. Surgeons periodically popped in, shaking hands and
sitting down to explain an outcome in the most simple and encouraging language
As we settle into a new year already shadowed by political
tensions, I’m focusing on the acts of kindness playing out in my midst. A
neighbor shoveling for us late at night. Casseroles and cards. A well-oiled
I’m reveling in gratitude and trying to seize entry points for
compassion. A trip to the grocery store brings opportunities at every aisle:
carts stuck together in the entrance, crowded corners, broken bags in parking
lots. It feels so good to help in the smallest of ways or pay a sincere
compliment to a weary cashier.
I learned about mercy from an 85-year-old priest — a retired
English professor who quotes Samuel Taylor Coleridge and hears confessions
twice a week. He donates every month to a free-of-cost hospice founded by
Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne and explained to me his reasoning: “Spiritual
and corporal works of mercy happen there. We can’t personally do much of that
work, and so we have proxies.”
The same organization sends two nurses every month to his
retirement home for priests to trim their toenails. “As I get older, my feet
get farther and farther away from me,” he said. “That’s the trouble.”
What a beautiful way to serve the church’s servants, the kind of
assistance most would never think to provide. “Old folks appreciate the power
of touch,” he said.
One of this month’s Scripture readings brings it all home with
words from Isaiah: “Thus says the Lord: Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless … and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly
Acts of mercy aren’t just to be performed when you’re in perfect
condition and your to-do list is complete. They’re done when you are wounded —
that’s how you arrive at healing.
“Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for
help, and He will say: Here I am!”
Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove
Heights, Minn., and the editor of SisterStory.org.