Somewhere around my sixth year of quarantine, I ended up having trouble with my eyes. I’d been spending hours in front of the computer writing books, so my eye trouble wasn’t surprising. I knew I needed an appointment with the eye doctor, but I was reluctant to make one. You see, for someone with multi-chemical sensitivity, a trip to the doctor is full of danger. Walking into a building exposes you to cleansers. Walking by people exposes you to perfume. Walking by a bathroom exposes you to air fresheners. Logically speaking, a trip from quarantine is inevitably going to lead to chemical exposure. After all, a person can only hold their breath for so long. In my case, it’s around two minutes and twenty seconds. Guess how I know? Simply put, leaving quarantine is going to result in painful side effects—and that’s frightening.
Before quarantine, I used to wear a gas mask when I went out in public. Believe it or not, walking around in a gas mask isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I received tons of strange glances. At first, the glances and whispers bothered me, but then I got used to them. I did learn a few lessons, though—when wearing a gas mask don’t chew bubble gum and blow a bubble. Mercy! Was that ever a mess to clean up! It’s also advisable to avoid wearing gas masks when entering government buildings. Security doesn’t take kindly to people wearing chemical gear…
Eventually, my illness worsened, and my lungs couldn’t take the effort of breathing through a gas mask. Although I hated to do it, I had to put my gas mask on a shelf and avoid going out in public. Quarantine. Seven years of life behind glass.
Lack of contact with people kind of messes with your brain. I’m not saying that I turned into a raving lunatic, but I did end up with some quirks. I used to love being around people, but during quarantine, I had to view people as dangers to be avoided. And when I went to the doctor, I always felt like a fugitive who was sneaking into some place illegal.
Needless to say, when I went to the eye doctor that day, I was a bundle of nerves. I held my breath past the bathroom, breathed shallowly and slowly while I stood in line, and I took a seat as far away from people that I could find. Did I mention that multi-chemical sensitivity isn’t fun? It really makes you feel like a weirdo.
By the time I was called back to the office, I was a nervous wreck and I HATED feeling that way. I used to like talking to people, now I had to smile and shuffle away when anyone drew near. I felt like a cross between Quasimodo and a leper.
When the ophthalmic assistant entered the room, I braced myself—waiting to see if her shampoo was going to make me sick. She smiled at me and said, “Wow! That’s a beautiful sweater. It looks really pretty on you.”
Her words stunned me. They literally stopped my worried train of thought right in its tracks. The whole world seemed to slow down. As I stuttered out a thank you, I tried to analyze why her words impacted me so deeply. I finally realized that other than my family, she had just given me the first compliment I’d received in years. Literally years.
I smiled. A warm glow wrapped its way around my heart. Suddenly, life looked different. Yes, I was dealing with a strange ailment. Yes, I had to avoid people. Yes, I felt like a weirdo.
I had a beautiful sweater. And my sweater made me look pretty.
My smile grew. For some reason, I no longer felt like a leprous Quasimodo. I no longer felt out of place. After all, so what if I lived in quarantine? Who cared if I could only talk to people through a windowpane? I had a beautiful sweater. And my sweater made me look pretty.
The happy glow I felt stayed with me through the rest of my eye appointment. In fact, it stayed with me through the whole day. When I got home, I wrote that woman’s kind words on a piece of paper and taped them beside my mirror. Whenever I felt like a galumphing Quasimodo, I would read her kind words and remember the joy of receiving a compliment.
That ophthalmic assistant will never know how much she helped me that day. She will never know the impact that her words had on my life. Through her, I realized the power of kind words. And now, when I’m out and about, I actively look for a chance to spread kind words of my own. I’m not talking about glibly giving insincere flattery—I’m talking about taking the time to give sincere compliments. I’m talking about looking at each individual and finding something praiseworthy that they are doing, or finding a particularly lovely thing that they are wearing, and then rather than keeping my thoughts to myself–speaking them out loud.
Quarantine taught me that kind words shouldn’t be left unspoken. When you look at the people around you, you never know just how long it’s been since they’ve heard one. You never know just how much that kind word might mean to them.
“Kind words are like honey—enjoyable and healthful.” Proverbs 16:24
“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25
“Say only what is good and helpful to those you are talking to, and what will give them a blessing…be kind to each other, tenderhearted.” Ephesians 4:29b, 32a