This is a story about kindness and a man named Calvin.
Before becoming a yoga teacher, I worked as a massage therapist. Back in the early 2000’s, when I was living in Los Angeles, I had a client named Calvin (pictured above). Calvin was a renowned vocal coach. From major Broadway stars to Hollywood royalty, his students eagerly made the pilgrimage to his humble L.A. home with dreams of training their voices to reach new heights.
In addition to being a mecca for vocal students, Cal was morbidly obese. Weighing in at close to 400 lbs (181 kg), he navigated life via wheelchair because his body couldn’t support his own weight. With white hair and a white beard, he was a veritable wheeled Santa Claus incarnate.
After our second massage appointment, as Cal was trying to get up from my table, it buckled under the crushing weight of his body. Cal hit the floor – hard – and my massage table splintered into pieces.
I instantly experienced an “empathetic shame” response in that I could feel the intensity of his embarrassment. Even now, a decade later, as I type these words, the awkwardness of the moment is painful to recall. Red-faced and a little teary, Cal apologized. He must have apologized 20 times in a matter of 20 minutes. After I helped him off the floor, he wrote me a check for the cost of a new table and for revenue lost until I purchased a new one.
Obviously, Cal never called for another massage, but we would go to dinner together once every few months. He loved The Cheesecake Factory. Once when I was wheeling him to our table, he asked me if I was embarrassed pushing him through the restaurant in a wheelchair. I said NO but that I was really embarrassed to be caught eating at the Cheesecake Factory! And with that, we shared a good laugh.
But aside from a few mutual Facebook likes, I haven’t been in touch with Cal in almost 12 years . . .
Which is why I was surprised to receive a call from his lawyer last week. The lawyer informed me that Cal had died earlier this year and that he left me a very small provision in his will. “Not a life-changing amount,” assured the lawyer. “But Cal insisted on leaving you a little something because you showed kindness to him during his life.”
But what exactly did I do? Push his wheelchair through a restaurant a handful of times? Not shame him when he broke my massage table? Was that it? I was perplexed that I was being rewarded for something that seemed so unremarkable within a friendship that felt inconsistent at best.
As it turns out, Cal died on my birthday, January 29. And while I don’t know yet the exact amount of what he left me, contrary to Mr. Lawyer, it IS a life-changing amount.