The evening is off to a great start, especially for a Monday. Swing Dance Club is an event I’d rather eat my hat than miss, and it’s awesome to start off the week with a good time with my friends. But a short time later, I find myself sitting in my dorm room clutching a left foot that’s radiating pain from here to Mexico. I’m wishing that my friends Milo and Lilly were with me, but they’re at Walmart buying me a compression wrap. Milo and Lilly are the dance partners whose overenthusiastic swing move had resulted in my falling and hurting my foot, but our friendship is so far withstanding this setback.
Suddenly, Milo bangs open the door to my dorm and sweeps in with Lilly close behind him.
“Hey hey, how’re you feeling?” he asks brightly.
“I’m fine,” I reply, even though I’m not. Since Milo and Lilly already feel responsible for my foot sprain, I don’t want to make them feel any worse than they already do. I give what I hope is a convincing smile.
Without warning, Milo dumps an armful of candies on my lap. “I remembered that you like Milky Way bars. I also got some Snickers and Reese’s, Lilly mentioned that you liked those. I wanted to get 100 Grand bars too, since they’re your favorite, but I couldn’t find any. I also was thinking of—”
“Hey Helen,” Lilly cuts off Milo. “Want me to put on some music? You can pick anything you want, even… even Taylor Swift.”
I look at the both of them, not sure who to thank first. Milo had returned with candy I didn’t ask for. Lilly had offered to play Taylor Swift, which for her is the ultimate sacrifice.
I address Lilly first.
“Aw thanks Lilly! Yeah, turn on ‘London Boy’.”
Perhaps Lilly is regretting her offer, but she plays the requested song anyway. I’m instructed by Lilly to stick out my leg, which I do with as much dignity as I can muster, and Milo tries to compression wrap my foot. While my two friends begin arguing over how to use the wrap, I eat a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Sure, my foot is hurting like crazy at this point, but the rest of me is feeling pretty good. I only met Lilly and Milo two months ago, but they’re taking care of me like my family would.
The adventure continues for several hours, with Milo entertaining me with stories and Lilly Googling my symptoms. Eventually, I fall asleep with Ibuprofen by my bed and instructions from Lilly ringing in my ears. (“Make sure you wake me up if you need anything, okay? Anything at all!”) The next morning, I find out that my foot is broken in two places. Although I had never broken a bone before, I knew instinctively that having a fractured foot wouldn’t entitle me to days filled with Milky Ways and Taylor Swift. As it turned out, I spent six weeks shuffling around on crutches, which necessitated my getting up at the ungodly hour of 7:20 AM to make it to my early classes. My foot needed to be iced for several hours every day. I wasn’t even able to get my own food at the cafeteria. But my broken foot opened my eyes to the kindness that surrounded me. From the night of the ill-starred October swing dance session to the December day that I discarded my boot and crutches, my college friends showed me what true Catholic compassion was.
For Lilly, letting me listen to Taylor Swift in the dorm was only the beginning of her honorable sacrifices. Even when my cumbersome walking boot made us both late for class, or she had to carry me to the Wellness Center, Lilly wouldn’t complain. And Milo had a way of materializing every time I found myself looking down a staircase and wondering how I could possibly navigate it. Had he not been there to help me, I promise I would have faceplanted on the landing every time. At night, when I had to stay in and ice my foot instead of going out, Catherine and Lucy made sure I never got lonely. We’d drink tea and talk about everything under the sun. Catherine, who was a lacrosse player and had plenty of experience with injuries, would always help me elevate my foot properly. To chase away the winter blues, Megan would visit my dorm and sing songs while playing the ukulele. Kieran reminded me that I was “a champ,” Justin carried my backpack for me, and I could always count on Thomas to pick up my meal from the cafeteria. There were so many people who helped me constantly— some who I barely knew.
I can’t say that I’m glad that I broke my foot, but I can say that many good things happened as a result. Those weeks spent on crutches gave me so many opportunities to witness the self-sacrifice and compassion, not only of friends, but of strangers. And I was reminded time and again that acts of kindness don’t need to be dramatic in order to have an impact. Always act with compassion. You never know the difference you can make— or to whom you can make a difference.
“Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40).