Picture of Peggy CummingPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher – retired after 34 years in the classroom – and an athlete.  She is now recovering from thoracic surgery.

In 2003, I was on my way to the Kansai Airport, in Osaka, Japan. I’d been visiting my daughter in Fukui, Japan. I was alone in this city of 19 million, loaded down with my luggage, some of her luggage (she was soon to return to Canada), and her snowboard. Through the whim of the Travel Gods, I found myself totally and completely lost in Osaka’s underground, helplessly rooted to the foreign soil, and the clock was ticking on my flight departure. I was crushed with the bustle of professionals scurrying to their jobs, engulfed by the sound of the loudspeaker blaring train arrivals (in Japanese, of course), and blinded by the parade of lights scheduling departures, which were unreadable to me.

I could taste my fear and dreaded a personal, international meltdown. Desperately, I tried to make eye contact, and finally a tall, white haired, elegant gentleman stopped.
Konnichi wa!” (Hello! -my only Japanese word) “Airport?” (my frantic English word)
He tipped his head, which I interpreted as, “Follow me”.

Putting one hundred percent of my faith and trust in this silent stranger, I struggled under the weight of my overload of luggage, crushed by the throngs of subway riders. He silently tipped his head through two frenzied train connections and onto an enormous platform, with ticket counters and long line-ups to buy tickets. There I zeroed in on a MEC backpack that shone like a headlamp, and almost collapsed with relief as the backpack wearer said “Yes”, he was going to the airport. I spun around to thank my silent stranger for his gesture of kindness to a foreigner, only to find that he had melted into the crowd of sophisticated suits, and disappeared.

At that moment relief and regret collided; relief at finding my way to the airport, and regret for not being able to stumble some halting Japanese words of thanks for his act of kindness in a world that was foreign to me.

My week in the hospital reminded me of that incident. The loudspeaker announced incomprehensible codes of colours. The nurses and doctors spoke measures of medicines and names of foreign pharmaceuticals in a medical-speak language. All the staff confidently went about their jobs and had destinations to their days. My nostrils danced with mingled disinfectants and antiseptics. Curtains sped back and forth, but none of them opened to show the familiar sun and hills of the outdoors. I was weighted down, not with luggage, but with pain, IVs, catheter, drainage tubes, and needles in my hand. The hospital world was a foreign world to me, in every way.

Yet within that alien hospital world, kindness was everywhere. A gentle hand plumped my pillows to make me more comfortable. A soft voice talked me through a new epidural insertion. A kind nurse tucked me in at night. A funny porter sped me through the halls with laughter and excitement. Friends fought their way through parking problems and a maze of corridors to bring their familiar smiling faces to my bedside. Flowers arrived from various parts of Canada. Fresh, out-of-the-oven scones surprised me on Sunday morning. A hand to hold, fresh raspberries, and coffee – ah, a latte! Friends brought their energy, their familiarity, a breath of my real life, into an unfamiliar world.

Afterwards, feeling relief that the hospital experience was over, and joy that I could recover at home, the river of kindness continued to flow. More visitors arrived with books, smiles, stories, croissants and a pedicure!

So, having learned the lesson of a missed opportunity from my Japanese experience, this blog gives me a voice to express enormous gratitude, and an abundance of appreciation for all the kindnesses, the soups, the flowers, the cards, the emails, the visits, the food, and the phone calls that I received. I am overwhelmed with love and support, and inadequate with my ability to say a humble and appreciative ‘Thank you’ for every thoughtful kindness.

To the doctors, hospital staff, family and friends; if there was an English phrase more expansive, expressive and emphatic, than ‘Thank you’, it would be appropriate here.

Peggy has her own photoblog, the F-stops here, where she posts a photograph every day.