It’s The Little Things

The wind is whistling and moaning today, as it has done for the last few days. Winter in the Highlands can often be breezy and occasionally hide-under-the-bed stormy; the present gale falls into the latter category. This morning I'm in the somewhat-drafty hospital cafeteria, having gotten us here safely to my husband's dialysis unit once more. It's very dark out there, even at just past 9:00 a.m. Life in the northern latitudes makes for long nights and short days!


At this time of day it's only a handful of cafeteria staff, and me. They are on their first morning break, joking and talking in at least three different accents – all Scottish, but from different areas. My American ears can finally make the distinctions, though I can't pinpoint their villages-of-origin like my husband can. It's a quiet period before the bustle of staff breaks and then later on, lunch. It's a small hospital and I have come to know people here a bit, over the last six months. They all know why I sit here for hours on end, four times a week, and they always ask how things are going on the house-move front. Some have been kind from the start while others were indifferent at first, but have warmed up to exchanging cheery greetings with me when I arrive. I don't expect everyone to be my pal, so the fact that a few of them have taken a kindly interest does give me a nice feeling.

I am often the recipient of small acts of kindness here, which are lovely. When the ladies commiserate with me if the weather is bad or ask how Sem is doing, it makes me feel less alone during the long hours of waiting. I suspected that they were only charging me staff prices for the occasional meals I purchase, and last week one of the women confirmed it as she rang me up, saying, “We're supposed to charge full price but I'm no' doing that, you're here nearly every day!” It's not an enormous difference in price but the gesture means a lot to me.

Hungry sheep munching their way through a field of turnips, planted just for them.

Hungry sheep munching their way through a field of turnips, planted just for them.

There's a cleaning lady who offers to make me a cuppa any time she sees me in the waiting room on the renal ward if it's taking a little longer for Sem to be taken off of dialysis. She keeps busy around me while having a chat and she, too, seems to have a genuine interest in our move to the north. I now know a little about people's families as well, as we chat about what we do when we're not at the hospital, or who they think I might know because one relative or another lives in my village. Just today one of the ladies offered to run out to the shop and pick a few things up for us because the weather was so bad. “I'm finished here before your husband will be finished dialysis,” she said. “It's no bother.” I declined with thanks, but the offer really touched me. People are kind.


In a life that is currently somewhat ruled by the impersonal bureaucracy of the Highland Council (we rent from them, so are at their mercy in terms of getting a similar tenancy up north, should one become available), it's nice to have people cheering us on and even taking an active interest in us. The woman who had offered to pop over to the shop for us approached me with a slip of paper last week. “One of the other girls just gave me this address,” she said. “Her neighbor is moving at the end of the month, and it's a Council-owned house. We wanted you to know about it before it becomes general knowledge; maybe it will help.” I thanked her sincerely – how nice are these folks?! - and she said, “We're all rooting for you back there in the kitchen, you know!”


I have noticed that quite often it's us “little people” who hang together in times of trial. While we have met some nice doctors over the years, the people who go out of their way to do others a good turn are almost invariably the nurses and the kitchen and cleaning staff. Perhaps that's because they understand the struggles we face from a less-lofty height than those on the other side of the doctor's desk or examination table. Like everything else of course there are 'good' and 'bad' people in every type of work, but as a generalization it seems to have held true over many hours spent at various hospitals, here. We've gotten promises from politicians about this situation, but any real attempts at help have come from folks like ourselves.


I learned that a couple of well-meaning ANC readers apparently took an interest in our situation as well when I received messages last month from a home-hemodialysis company representative, who hunted me down on Facebook. He was prompted by some readers to get in touch with me regarding home hemo after they read my article about our difficult commute to dialysis. While I appreciated his enthusiasm, I had to have a somewhat awkward discussion with him, explaining repeatedly that it is not a good option for us at present, in spite of his persistence. Home hemo is truly not an option for every patient, which many of us (patients and carers) find ourselves having to explain all too often to the “home hemo brigade”. If the readers had asked me personally I would have been happy to tell them this myself, along with letting them know that we are well aware of the existence of home hemodialysis, but as they remain anonymous I do at least want to thank them for their attempt to help, even though it was – unbeknownst to them – a bit misguided. The intention was good, and I do appreciate it.

Can you spot Sem? Way ahead of me on the path!

Can you spot Sem? Way ahead of me on the path!

As we make our way through life in a world that can sometimes seem more hectic and less human than it used to be, sometimes it's just nice to be seen and acknowledged. A friendly wave, a brief moment of conversation, a “put your money away” flick of the hand when the coffee machine is broken and a cup of instant is offered in its place... these are tiny things, in the grand scheme, but they add up to a feeling of connection and warmth. It serves as an example to me, that's for sure. Like most of us I can get wrapped up in my own life to the exclusion of all others, caught up in the storm of my worries and cares. It's easy to forget about the rest of humanity and blunder along without thought to those around me, but having been shown so much kindness I want to emulate the actions of those who have been kind to us. I know, first-hand, that it takes so little to have a good impact on someone else. Anything from a sincere note of thanks sent to someone who normally gets very little appreciation, to simply explaining how the complicated coffee machine works can brighten someone's day or ease their path just a little.


If these last months have shown me anything, it's that small kindnesses can make a big difference. A genial word, a little help, a friendly smile... To make a connection, however brief, is perhaps all it takes to let a fellow human being know that they aren't all alone in this big and sometimes impersonal world. We all have a story, and sometimes even the most self-sufficient of us could use a bit of help. Kindness, I have decided, starts right here, with me.


Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands. Equally surprising to her is that she now has a small business restoring and selling old fountain pens. These two facts have convinced Deb that life is either beautifully random, or filled with destiny created by someone with a sense of humor. She hopes the fine north state residents will accept her as an honorary member, since she has some cousins in California who she visited once, but even more importantly because the north state folks she actually knows are fabulous people, who are also the reason for her presence here on An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Deb is grateful that she lives in a place that's about as point-and-shoot as it gets. Her tortoiseshell cat, Smartie, rates her as an average minion, too slow with the door-opening but not too bad on the food-dish-refilling, and her husband hasn't had her deported back to the States yet, so things must be going all right there, as well.
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55 Responses

  1. Matthew Grigsby says:

    This is just so beautifully crafted it brought tears to my eyes.  I imagine when you’re at the mercy of so many variables that cannot ever be controlled (health, the weather, the Highland Council), you need the simple kindnesses more than ever.

    This is a good reminder to us all that the little things we can do for each other matter in ways we might never understand.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Matt, I’m glad you enjoyed it!  It really has been the small gestures that have meant such a great deal, these past many months.  Hopefully once all is said and done, I’ll have the energy to reciprocate to one and all in kind, when the opportunities arise!

  2. Randall R Smith says:

    “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”  Plato
    So good to hear your message from so far away after so long in the whining, the false misery, the turmoil of our recent election.  This the nation that built homes and farms in the wilderness, plowed the plains, forged the Transcontinental Railroad, all with bare hands, never complaining; now is worried over shadows and predictions.  Keep telling about Jefferson’s “common man” and his/her strength, ultimate power, insight and kindness above and beyond those who rule.

    • Deb says:

      For goodness’ sake, is there no escape?  I made no reference to politics in this article, nor does it make any sense to try to force some comparison between what I have written, and the recent election.  This story is about human interaction and kindness, and not anything to do with the election – and considering you’ve made it sound like you are weary of the discussions surrounding it, I find it interesting (and not a little inappropriate) that you had to drag it in here, in a column completely removed from it.

      I am glad that it sounds as though you enjoyed the article, but I do wish you had just let it be what it is… a story about kindness, and nothing whatsoever to do with anyone’s politics.

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        I like the photo of the Jackdaws on the chimney. Jackdaws are corvids—my favorite family of birds—including the crows, jays, magpies, rooks, ravens, and nutcrackers.  The corvids are clever—one of two families of birds with an evolutionary trend toward greater encephalization (bigger brains); the other family being the parrots. Speaking of bird brains, did you hear the Trump camp’s latest thoughts on alternative facts?

        Returning to the subject of birds, I think this is where I should probably duck.

        • Deb says:

          Why must some of you insist on bringing politics into this article that has NOTHING to do with politics?  Honestly, not appreciated, not humorous.

          I really like the cheeky jackdaws, too.  In fact, I like them better than some humans.

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            Sorry, Deb.  I was aiming to introduce a little levity. My aim isn’t always on target.

            We content providers have to live with the reality that the comments sections belong to the readers—the comment section goes where readers want it to go (with some moderation).  NPR recently did away with comments on their website for various reasons, one of the weightier reasons being that a tiny fraction of NPR’s website visitors were leaving a huge proportion of the comments, and those comments tended to be fractious.


          • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

            Guys – stop with the political jabs and jokes on Deb’s column.

            I know Deb quite well. I am extremely serious when I tell you that she (1) has FAR more drama going on behind the scenes than you will ever know and (2) she has had it UP TO HERE with this stuff. This is one of her few refuges of sanity and I speak for her when I ask – demand – that you cut it out. It really is NOT funny to her and it adds more stress to her already very exhausting life.

            I am also 100% serious when I say I will delete the next political comment on Deb’s column and ask about that writer being permanently sent to the spam filter.

          • cody says:

            There are some on here that cannot resist bringing politics into MOST totally unrelated articles.  It is uncalled for, and ruins your train of thought – especially on a great, and very well-written story like this one.

            There are still communities like this in the USA, and in CA, where people look out for each other, and lend a hand when needed (or even not needed).  They tend to be in very small communities, well away from urban/metro population centers.  Cedarville reminds me of such a place, though I have not been up there for 5 years or so.

            Thank you for sharing your great story and your experiences/observations on here.  Best of luck!

        • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

          I’m too often guilty of offering something inappropriate when going for a laugh. Heck, just ask my wife.

          Second thought, don’t ask her.

          • Deb says:

            Now I really want to ask her! 😀

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            Hal, I play tennis with the Forest Supervisor (head honcho) of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. He’s one of the funnier guys around. Last night he said that most mornings his wife’s words of advice as he leaves for work are: “Now remember Dave, if you think it’s funny, don’t say it.”

    • Erika says:

      Glaring sternly in his general direction.

  3. Thank you, Deb, for keeping us up to date about you and your Sem.

    I wish so much: that time could be turned back to when your Sem wasn’t sick, and that your housing situation was magically solved.

    Through it all, you share your astute insights so poetically  and beautifully – and with moving photos, too.

    Your ability to express gratitude in these dark days reminds us all that sometimes those small acts of kindness can make a difference.

    Here at A News, we are so grateful for you. Thank you!

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Doni, and I am glad you enjoyed the article.  Sem and I are far too acquainted with dark days of every kind and for every reason, and that makes these small gestures of kindness even more powerful in their way.   I have the same wishes you do, but wishing for things that cannot happen ends up making me even more sad, so I try to remind myself to just keep pushing forward with life, even when things are difficult and dismal.  It doesn’t mean I don’t need a big ol’ temper tantrum about how rotten things can be, sometimes…!  But it does help me try to retain some equilibrium.

      I am grateful to be here at A News!  You have always been such a welcoming bunch, and for that I am glad.

  4. cheyenne says:

    Deb, your pictures are so beautiful I think amateur photographer should be changed to excellent photographer.

  5. Beverly Stafford says:

    I have this saying titled The Essence of Compassion by my desk:  “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and wrong . . . because sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”  Your story of “little people” giving “little kindnesses” warms the heart.  You and your Sem are in the thoughts of many of us.

  6. Anne Gibbons, a Glesca Lass says:

    So profound, Deb!

    Thank you and I remain hopeful for your house hunt.


    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Anne!  I’ll let you in on a secret… there is good news on the house front!  Well, it’s a flat, but it will do 🙂  More on that another time, after all is sorted and settled!

  7. Cathy says:

    Deb, Those acts of kindness that you’re describing are truly what makes life meaningful, both in our personal world and in the world at large. It only takes a few seconds to express a show of generosity or caring to someone, but the kindness behind the act can affect the recipient deeply. Thank you for such a beautiful way of sharing your experiences.

    Best of luck in the house hunting!

  8. Karen C says:

    Ah Deb, we just saw another side of you today…that beautiful fighting spirit is alive and well.  That is what is going to get you through this situation.  I love the picture of the creek and fall colored, leaf strewn pathway.  That is my kind of comfort place.

    Best wishes coming you way with lots of prayers, and hoping the flat works out well for you and your beloved Sem.

    Thanks for keeping us in the loop with your adventurous and sometimes tough days and nights.  We all love what you write.  Thank you.

    • Deb says:

      Thanks, Karen!  I’m glad you enjoy the writing, and the photos, too.  That picture you referred to is at a place called Big Burn Walk.  It’s really, really lovely.  There’s a waterfall in there somewhere – we just haven’t managed to get to it yet.  It’s a goal for someday 🙂

  9. Carrie says:

    Have always loved what you write! Pleasant thoughts go out to you, Deb!

  10. Alexa says:

    What a wondrous article and picture you paint.  Just had to put in my appreciation for your writings too.  Thank you so much, i’ll be reading this a few more times I’m sure.  You make me want to come and spend the rest of my days up there where you are too, and with the people you are amongst who obviously give you certain comfort.  All the very, very best, Alexa

  11. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    This is a beautifully written article and the photographs are amazing.  So, fields of turnips are planted for the sheep?  I’m certain that there is a very good reason for this practice.   There must be something special about turnips  I’ve been missing!

    I love your writing, so I’m no surprised that you could deliver such a message so eloquently.   And what you write is true.

    Having seen the road you travel to town with Sem for dialysis, I can’t wait to hear that you have moved north.



    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Joanne!  I’ve just asked Sem about “sheeps and neeps”.  He said that sometimes crofters will put up a temporary fence around a portion of a field of turnips and turn the sheep loose on it.  It’s called “creep feeding” because they gradually creep forward along the field, chomping up the turnips.  If they are young sheep they’ll have teeth that can eat the turnips right out of the ground; if they’re a little older, the crofter will chop the turnips up (there in the field) and let the sheep at them.  Turnips have a lot of water in them, so they are more belly-fillers than filled with nutrition, so the sheep will get hay and other things as well.  I’ve always thought of it as an early winter treat for the hungry sheep!

      The move is approaching!  Hurdles to jump first, but hopefully soon we’ll be safely north 🙂

  12. Randall R Smith says:

    Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as others see us!     Robert Burns 1786
    Thanks Deb for the clarity which your rebuke brings.  As I meant no harm, apology still seems the best course.  And like you, I seek kindness in others and yearn for more civil times.
    Editor: please remove my name from these automatic deliveries.

    • Beverly Stafford says:

      I didn’t disagree with what you wrote, but I do understand Deb’s reaction to it.  Good of you to offer both explanation and apology.

    • Deb says:

      Yes, we all know what Rabbie Burns has said, especially here in Scotland.

      “I was only joking,” or “I meant no harm,” are always the go-to responses, it seems, when someone dares to speak up against irrelevant or inappropriate comments.  It simply boggles my mind that a writer could produce a piece on, say, grapes, and someone will decide to reply with some statement about roof nails.  To what end?  I know not.

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        Or “Can’t you take a joke?”  A person at my office said something that hurt the feelings of another, and the miscreant attempted to cover his behind with the old saw, “Can’t you take a joke?”  I told my husband about it that evening, and his quick response was, “Yeah, when I hear one.”

        • Deb says:

          Your husband’s response was spot-on, Beverly!  🙂

          Saying something inappropriate or hurtful and then trying to place the blame firmly back in the lap of the person who has been treated with disdain or contempt (but who had the temerity to respond with displeasure at the inappropriate comment/action) is immature and further denigrates the person who “can’t take a joke.”

          I consider myself to have a fairly good sense of humor, so yeah, I know funny when I see/read/hear it.  I have also been on the wrong end of the equation, having said something careless that hurt another person.  Fortunately with maturity has come the ability to say, “I am sorry that I hurt/offended you, it was wrong of me,” without any more displacing of blame.

          I don’t always get it right, but I try.  There have been times when I didn’t mean any harm but the point is that harm was done, and for that, all I could do was apologize… without turning it into the ol’ “I’m sorry you feel that way,” which is another oldie guaranteed to set my blood boiling.

  13. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Beautiful piece of writing. Wishing you luck on the move north.

    • Deb says:

      Thanks, Hal!  Glad you enjoyed the piece 🙂  And to your other comment, I’ve been known to blurt out the thing I thought that was funny, that no one else thought was funny, too, in my time.  I just generally don’t do it in print, when there is time to consider one’s words 🙂

  14. Deb says:

    Cody, I can’t seem to reply directly to you so I hope you will see my reply here instead – I’m glad you have experienced caring communities where you’ve lived, as well!  It makes a good difference to life 🙂

  15. Erika says:

    This is a lovely piece, Deb.  One of your absolute best.  I will keep this marked so I can go back and reread it when I am feeling stressed and desperately want to smack someone.

    I have always appreciated having “friends in low places”, as someone (Billy Joel?) once said.  When my son was born with a fever, it was the nurses who kept me calm and make sure I knew what was going on, not the doctor with the impenetrable accent.

    I’m glad there are people keeping an eye out for you over there.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Erika!

      My old boss back in the States used to say to me, when he needed something done (IT matter, office repair job, whatever), “Go do your magic, whatever it is you do that gets results so fast all the time.”

      My ‘magic’ was just being NICE to people.  Unlike the “higher echelon” I talked to the maintenance guys and the IT folks and the mailroom people and actually cared when I asked how they were, and was interested in them as people.  A happy result of that was that if I needed something, they often were quick to provide help.  I wasn’t nice to them so that they would fix my boss’s Blackberry asap, I was nice to them because it’s nice to be nice, y’know?

      So it used to sort of annoy/baffle/amuse me that my boss thought it was some kind of magic.  Um… no… us little people just look out for each other! 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  16. Ginny says:

    A beautiful column, Deb.

    Your writing is spectacular!  And the photos are so beautiful.  Thank you for the info on the turnips and the sheep.  I will mention that turnips to my unofficially adopted kids who raise sheep.  Maybe they will grow some turnips for them, too, in the North State.  ;o)

    When my husband was in and out of the cancer ward before he died, when someone did something kind by word or deed, it made me feel a little less stressed.  I appreciated it very much.  Therefore, I have some understanding how you feel with what you and Sem are going through right now.   I kept my hands busy during those days Chuck was in the cancer ward by knitting hats for others who needed them.  It kept my mind busy in a way to take my mind off the reason I was there.

    For me, and for some others also, I understand you being upset with the person(s) who profess to be liberals, but are really so intolerant themselves.  Thank you for speaking out, and the others who did so on your behalf.

    Blessings to you and to Sem, today and everyday, Deb.  May the New Year 2017 be more than you could wish for.





    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Ginny!  I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece 🙂  I hope the Turnip Experiment, if your unofficially adopted kids try it, will be a success.

      There is a kind of solidarity among caregivers/partners in hospitals, I think.  We all belong to a club we never wanted to belong to, and I’ve seen the kindness in action in that club, too.  It’s so lovely that you knitted hats for people while your husband was in the ward.  I am sure they were appreciated!

      Thank you for your kind wishes for us, which are appreciated as well as your understanding regarding my feelings about (and reactions to) some unnecessary commentary.  All I really wanted was to talk about kindness between people.

      • Ginny says:

        Sent the link to this post to my sister-in-law in Salinas.  She loved it!  I am sure she will be writing you.  And, also maybe mention the time she and my brother-in-laws time in Scotland some years ago.  I sent the link for her to read your older posts as she loved this one so much.  Good job, precious lady…..

        Blessings, always.

  17. Eleanor says:

    Dear Deb

    It is another of your kindnesses that you post these messages for us!   I had to wait a day to respond, as I was/am so moved (yes, to tears) by this particular article – how you paint with words and illustrate with pictures.   The photo of Sem walking at the Big Burn Walk is hauntingly beautiful.    It looks like a masterpiece painting.    I have thought often along the same lines (i.e. interactions among people and how easy it is to be kind, to make someone else’s day just a little better by choosing kindness over, well, nothingness, I guess.)   I look forward to your further postings (do not give up on us, please!!) and I hope your move north is as gentle as possible.   Each of your articles is like a little gem in my day!

  18. Sally says:

    I have never met you Deb, but have followed your writing.  Thank you for sharing!  It gives us all a perspective  that each life travels on an unknown journey.  We pray for you and Sem and hope all those you are meeting in the Highlands are kind and supportive.  Should the opportunity that you could for real become a Northern Californian, we would adopt you with warmth and love!

    • Deb says:

      I’m glad you have enjoyed my column, Sally!  Thank you for telling me.  It’s nice to know I have friends all the way over there in the North State 🙂

  19. Barbara Cross says:


    I have read all your contributions to ANC and  I’m so impressed with your skill in writing and your photography. You certainly are one of the bright spots on Doni’s site!  How kind and sensitive  are the people with whom you have come in contact at the hospital.  They are all angels.  Thankfully there are many people in the world like that but your article reminds all of us to become “angels of thoughtfulness”.   We have a syndicated columnist in our newspaper, Sharon Randell.  Here is one of her quotes ” Kindness is the action of Love”.    Here is another quote from my daughter who is a nurse…”Everyone has a journey that you know nothing about” .  The latter reminds us to carry patience  and kindness with us  wherever we walk among people.   Keep up the writing — we all feel like we know you and would welcome you in our homes whenever you come to the North State.


    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Barbara, for your thoughts and for sharing those two very pertinent quotes as well.  I am glad you have enjoyed my articles and photographs here – thank you for telling me!

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