Column: When a simple act can go a long way

09/06/2016 12:00 PM |


Feeling a little overwhelmed these days? Whether it’s the constant bickering between Donald Trump supporters and naysayers, the controversy surrounding NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s defiant or ignorant decision to sit during the national anthem or the latest sexting scandal involving former congressman Anthony Weiner, the news cycle can be a bit depressing.

Even on the opinion pages of your local newspaper, commentary has been filed lately about what’s right or wrong with Mr. Trump.

It can be exhausting. So let’s take break.

Let’s slow down for a second and reflect on some of the good deeds that unfold every day, often unnoticed by the masses. Let’s remember how a simple act of kindness can go a long way toward lifting someone’s spirits. Here’s one such story, courtesy of Gail Madden of Laurel.

The call came on a Wednesday in mid-August. Ms. Madden had been in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities, recovering from a series of falls, and had been unable to leave the house much. Over a month had passed since her last visit to Hair Experience, her beauty salon in Mattituck. The owner, Janet Anderson, who had been styling Ms. Madden’s hair for about five years, was calling to check in on her customer.

Ms. Anderson asked if she could do anything to help. Ms. Madden, who had recently celebrated her 78th birthday, happily replied that, yes, she would love to have her hair done at the salon.

That Saturday, after finishing her shift in the afternoon, Ms. Anderson drove to Ms. Madden’s home to pick her up. They returned to the salon, Ms. Madden had her hair done and Ms. Anderson gave her a lift back home.

“I was overwhelmed that she was going to come and get me from her beauty parlor that she owns and runs,” Ms. Madden said. “But it didn’t really surprise me too much because that’s the kind of person she is.”

A unique bond often forms between a customer and her hairdresser. A salon or barber shop often feels like a place where someone can freely unload whatever happens to be on their chest.

Ms. Madden said she’s been a customer at Hair Experience for a number of years, originally with another stylist. But when that woman moved away, Ms. Madden transitioned to Ms. Anderson.

When I asked Ms. Madden how she got close to Ms. Anderson during that time, she responded: “That’s what happens at the beauty parlor.”

Ms. Madden described her hairdresser as “very easygoing” and a hard worker. When the shop needed a new floor recently, Ms. Anderson did the work herself, she said. She also takes in girls through Eastern Suffolk BOCES and gives them a chance to gain hands-on experience.

“One little girl found it difficult even to talk to people and now she’s very gregarious,” Ms. Madden said. “It’s because Janet gives them a chance and helps them and tutors them.”

Ms. Madden has lived on the North Fork since 1995 with her husband, John, a former pastor at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Center Moriches. At the end of January, she fell three times in a single night, and was actually injured far more seriously than either of them initially thought.

It wasn’t until late March, on the night of Palm Sunday, that Ms. Madden received frightening news.

“Evidently I had rattled things around and I had bleeding in the brain,” she said. “I had to have a neurosurgeon go in there and put a drain in and get that excess blood out.”

After the procedure, she learned just how close she’d come to suffering either permanent damage or even death. The neurologist showed her where the blood had been on the brain and explained that if it had gone much farther, she wouldn’t be sitting there.

“It really took my breath away,” she said. “I didn’t realize how serious it was.”

She underwent physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson. Her surgery was performed at Stony Brook University Medical Center, which she described as “another place where they were angels.”

A retired elementary school vocal music teacher, Ms. Madden recalled that on the way into the operating room, she and her husband — who has been dealing with his own health concerns — heard a familiar voice call out their names. The woman, who was a parishioner at the Center Moriches church, was also a nurse and would be assisting in Ms. Madden’s the surgery.

“It certainly relieved me a lot,” Ms. Madden said. “I knew that we were in good hands all the way around.”

Ms. Madden said she has recovered well and is now back to near 100 percent, including a fresh hair styling.

“It always feels good to come home from the beauty parlor,” she said.

Photo credit: Barbaraellen Koch

WerkmeisterThe author is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].