I met him in the waiting room of my private practice office, a bright eyed preteen, a patient of one of my colleagues. He started talking to me as soon as I passed through the front door. He wanted to play a record for me, an actual vinyl record, on a record player he carries around with him the way another child might always have a smartphone with him. He was very enthusiastic, not so much about the music per se, but the way the record player produced the sounds. During that meeting, over a year ago, he also told me that the big tropical plant that’s in the corner of the waiting room needed to be re-potted. He explained that it was root bound and needed  a larger pot. I told him that I agreed and planned to re-pot it.

The first visit was over a year ago. He has reminded me to re-pot that plant every time I’ve seen him. When I don’t see him, he often asks my colleague to write me a note letting me know that he watered one of my plants or that one of the plants has a new leaf. In the winter, I told him that I would re-pot the plant once it got sunny so we could do it outside.

It took me awhile to get all of the re-potting supplies to my office but I did it last week. I asked him if he wanted to help and he enthusiastically agreed. On Monday, I asked my colleague when he would be back to see her. He was scheduled to come in on Wednesday. He used to come in every Tuesday, which was a clinic day for me. Wednesday was not. I asked her for the appointment time and saw that I had no appointments or meetings at that time. I told her that I would come into work so that he and I could re-pot the plant together.

The plant had been given to me by our building landlord. It was too big for his apartment. It was obvious that he was not familiar with growing houseplants. It was placed in an ovular pot with no drainage hole. The main problem, however, was the fact that the opening of the pot was narrower than the rest of the pot. We would have to break the pot to get the plant out. I grabbed a hammer and drove to my office.

A couple of minutes after I started setting up the supplies outside of the front of the office, I heard his excited voice, “Elizabeth, perfect timing! I just got here!”

We were able to borrow his mom’s sunglasses for eye protection. I taught him how to carefully use the hammer to break the clay pot into pieces without destroying the plant. He worked carefully and systematically. We got the plant in the new pot, surrounded it with new soil, cleaned up the mess, and brought the plant back indoors.

His mother came out briefly and said, “I wish I had a camera. I’d take a video.” She knew how much her son loves plants. She could also see what a wonderful time he was having. His daily life is not easy and he is particularly stressed about having just started middle school. He had the best time helping me re-pot that plant. I am guessing that he will look at it proudly every time he comes to the office. Yes, I came in on a day I don’t typically work in the office. But my small act of kindness, which took up no more than 45 minutes of my day, made a difference in the life of a child.

Small acts of kindness can mean a great deal to other people.

And sometimes they require use of a hammer.