The Internet Doesn’t Have To Be So Negative

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Smooch from Chicago

A man stands between two lights in a dark urban setting

A few years ago, I got really sick with a case of strep throat that got out of hand. The infection spread throughout my entire body, drastically damaging my digestive tract. For about two months I couldn’t even drink water because it caused an unbearable pain throughout my chest and stomach. I literally lived off IV fluid and what little soup broth I could get into me.

My primary doctor hit the end of his rope and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He referred me to a gastro doctor for an endoscopy (i.e., camera down the throat). That same day, a Friday, I got a call from the gastro’s receptionist to schedule the procedure. She explained that this doctor was in surgeries all day Friday and Saturday and, depending on when there was time, that would dictate which hospital I would go to. She took my insurance info and we planned for Saturday evening. He was going to be at a hospital close to me and she said she would call me back with all the correct info.

A couple of hours went by and the receptionist called back with some bad news. This happened around my birthday, and I had just turned 26 two weeks prior. That Friday was the last day I was going to be on my parents insurance — it literally expired at midnight. With everything happening and me being away from work, I forgot to switch my insurance over to my work insurance.

I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t eat, I could barely move. I was literally crawling and stumbling through my apartment because I didn’t have the strength to walk without becoming super winded. I needed medical attention and I was about to lose the ability to seek it.

After hearing the complete shock, confusion, and silence of me not knowing what to do, the receptionist said, “Let me check something. I’ll call you back,” and she hung up. Thirty minutes later, she called back and asked me, “Can you be at this address at 10 tonight with someone to drive you home?” I said yes and got the info, and my roommate agreed to drive me to the appointment.

Ten o’clock rolled around and we found ourselves looking for this address. Turns out it was in one of the darkest industrial complexes on the South Side of Chicago. We finally found it, and we could only see a single light on in the lobby as we walked up to the door.

Things seemed weird. We walked in, and a male nurse came to the railing of the level at the top of the stairs. He asked me, “Are you Smooch?” I said yes, and then he came down and locked the door behind us. He led us upstairs and gave my roommate the remote for the TV in the waiting room, which was completely dark.

The nurse brought me over to the front desk and started doing paperwork with me. He had clearly never done this before. He called someone, put them on speaker phone, and started asking questions on how to process the paperwork. It became obvious that the person on the phone was the one who was supposed to be at the front desk.

I heard the front door unlock while we were doing paperwork and someone walked in. She came upstairs and started turning on lights and equipment. Up until this point, the only two lights on in this entire medical facility were in the lobby and the front desk area.

After finishing the paperwork, the nurse walked me back to a prep area. He had me get into the procedure gown and set me up with an IV. He mentioned we may have to wait a little because the doctor just finished with his last surgery on the North Side of Chicago and was on his way.

At this point I decided to look up the facility I was in, and I discovered that it wasn’t even supposed to be open on Fridays. The gastro who was doing this procedure owned the practice. He had called in a nurse and an anesthesiologist, driven to the complete opposite side of the city after twelve hours of surgeries, and bothered the front desk person on their night off — all to make this procedure happen before midnight so I could get my insurance to cover it. I never once met this doctor before and he had absolutely no reason to put that much effort into making all of that work for me.

The gastro eventually arrived. On top of telling me what was causing my issues and prescribing the medication that would fix them, he cauterized most of my damaged areas. I was able to eat actual food that same night after two months of nothing solid.

Once I came down from my high of the procedure and I was at home, I broke down and cried. I realized how much effort so many people went through to help me. I will never ever forget how much they did for me.

Ben from Oklahoma

Photo of a diesel truck on a roadway pointed to a cloudy sunset

Several years ago I found myself working one miserable, rainy Thanksgiving. Holidays, weekends, and inclement weather don’t stop anything in the oil and gas industry, and I was called in to work about 10 that morning. Being the only single, childless guy on the payroll of a small trucking company, I guess I was obligated to work. In hindsight I should have probably offered to do it without being asked.

I was 22 years old and alone on a major holiday for the first time in my life. All I wanted to do was stay inside with the curtains drawn and nap all day and feel sorry for myself.

I got dressed, drove to the shop, and climbed aboard the tanker truck I was assigned to. I headed west towards Texas with a list of five or six loads needing hauled that day. I thought to myself: Great, not only am I getting a late start, now I’m looking at easily at least a 10 or 12 hour day if everything went smoothly.

As I settled into the drive, it seemed like the weather reflected my mood. Dreary, gray, overcast, and it being the Texas Panhandle, the wind never stopped howling. Endless sand and tumbleweeds blew across the road. My coffee didn’t taste good and my favorite CDs didn’t seem to lift me up. Nowhere was open with truck parking to grab a bite except the tiny truck stop on the main highway out of town. Heat-lamp deli burritos and string cheese for my Thanksgiving, hooray for me.

Oh well, I thought. I will just get these loads hauled as fast as I can, go back home, and drink beer until I fall asleep.

I did everything I could for the first few hours to cut corners and shave minutes off the rest of my day. It was looking like I’d be in my recliner at a decent hour until I pulled in to pick up load number four. Another driver had pulled in right before me and had begun loading his tanker. I was completely blocked from doing my job. Those tankers can transport 200 barrels of crude, 8,400 gallons. This meant an hour or more of me just sitting there, being miserable and waiting.

The other driver waved a gloved hand and flashed a friendly smile at me, but I didn’t return it. I slumped deep in the driver’s seat of my Peterbilt and dug into my gas station cooler feast. Any other day I would have walked over and introduced myself. I just couldn’t do it that day. At some point I started to feel a little guilty for not even waving to the guy. He was just doing his job, same as I was.

I heard a knock on my driver’s door. I looked down to see the guy holding a brown paper lunch sack and something wrapped in tinfoil. There was no getting out of it now. I had to force a smile, climb down out of the cab, and meet someone whose actions made me think about how stupid my negativity was. I can’t even remember his name. I just remember a red white and blue Lone Star flag patch on his shirt.

With a small grin he asked, “D’ja eat yet?”

He handed me the lunch sack and it held a giant tinfoil wrapped turkey sandwich on homemade bread. To this day it’s probably the greatest sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

He let me eat while we made small talk. His wife had sent him off to work with more food than he’d ever need, and said he could tell by looking at me that I could use a little thanksgiving. We probably talked about the wind and the weather, road construction, dot cops, and crude oil prices. Typical small talk.

He handed me the other tinfoil packet, and it was a slice of pecan pie his wife had made. He was done for the day after that load and said he would have plenty of leftovers when he got home. He figured I could put it to good use. That’s when I felt a big scratchy lump in my throat and stupid water in my eyes. From what I can remember I did a pretty good job of hiding the fact I was choked up.

We parted ways, he finished loading his tanker, and I climbed back into mine. I watched him ease the truck into gear and move away towards the road, and he gave another wave. That time I waved back.

The food itself isn’t the reason for this being the nicest thing a stranger ever did for me. I’m sure he could tell by looking at me I wasn’t starving, so it wasn’t a handout. I think he could just tell exactly what was going on that day, even without knowing me at all.

That was years ago and I still think about it from time to time. I forget and find myself occasionally feeling sorry for myself or judging others but I guess that’s just human nature. I can genuinely say that, ever since the embarrassment of my self-pity that day, I always try and keep an open mind and give people the benefit of the doubt, sometimes to a fault. When I originally posted this online, someone replied that the greatest quote pertaining to this was, “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That is the most accurate and simple quote I can think of to sum up the lesson I learned.

Since that act of kindness, I’ve worked several more Thanksgivings and even spent a couple Christmases alone. They’re not nearly as sad and unbearable as you might think. There are worse places to be than the cab of truck on Thanksgiving or an Oklahoma Waffle House on Christmas morning, especially if you look at life with the right perspective and a little sense of humor.

Josh from Baltimore

Man standing beside a headless lion statue

There’s a photo of me that makes me laugh every time I see it. I don’t know why I enjoy it so much. Maybe it’s because it represents the silly part of my personality that I don’t show to many people. Only my wife knows how silly I can be now that I think about it.

She and I were in an art museum in Baltimore for her birthday. We were having a good time just walking around the space. We came upon this statue of a lion in an Egyptian exhibit, and its head was missing. My first thought was to have her take a picture of me standing beside the statue so that my head looked like its head. We waited until no one was around and then she did. We both died laughing.

It’s those kinds of moments, you know? Those are what make life fun.