Millions of wars are being waged every single day — you just can’t see them. Every morning, folks are struggling to get out of bed, afraid to face another day. For others, sleep evades them, and they spend their nights staring at the ceiling, willing their bodies to sleep but unable to turn off their minds.

One of the biggest life lessons my mother taught me was to be kind to everyone because you never know what someone is going through. Everyone has a story, an invisible battle they are fighting, whether it be illness, depression, financial struggles, divorce, the loss of a loved one, addiction, abuse; the list goes on.

My mother, Virginia Hendriks, was a prime example of this. At 48, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In reality, she’d had it for much longer, likely since her teenage years. More times than she could count, she was told by people, “But you look so good!” They could not see the debilitating fatigue that can’t be slept off, the nerves that made it feel like her insides were jumping, the electric shock pain in her head, her fight to literally put one foot in front of the other to walk.

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“But you look so good!”

Two years ago began the end of her decades-long battle. I was blessed to have had her here in Truckee, having moved her from New Jersey to the Tahoe Forest Hospital Extended Care Center. She was literally down to the use of her last two fingers, and when she lost that, it was time to put up the white flag of surrender.

Although my mother didn’t have a lot in life, she’d give you not just the shirt off her back, but her hat, coat, and shoes, too. In her short time in Truckee, she touched countless lives. She served as mother, friend, confidant, therapist, and faith counselor to literally dozens of the folks who cared for her daily. That was her way. As it became clear that her time with us was growing shorter, people streamed in and out of her room all day, former employees came from an hour away, and there was a never-ending flow of tears. It was a true testament to the person she was and how she lived her life.

A little kindness goes a long way.

Living in a social media world, where everyone has an opinion and is so quick to judge, it’s easy to see that kindness slip away. It’s high time to take a step back to refresh ourselves about the Golden Rule: Treat others how you would want to be treated. It’s quite simple yet many seem to have forgotten. Rooted in empathy, these words teach us to take a step back and for a moment, put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Simple acts of kindness can make all the difference in someone’s day: a friendly greeting, a compliment, holding the door open for the person behind you, taking the time to say, “How are you?” and really mean it. These humble gestures cost nothing, yet they can have tremendous value for the person who is struggling to make it through the day but doesn’t let it show on the outside. Just because someone carries it well doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.

So this holiday season, take a step back and give the most important thing of all — the gift of kindness.

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