When the neonatal physician gave us the green light to leave, we could not have left the NICU any faster. A 17-day stay in the NICU is not long by any measure, but it’s not that short either, and by the end of it, we were ready to take our baby home.

About an hour after arriving home, I received a phone call from a number I recognized to be the hospital. I answered it, thinking we had left behind one of the many possessions we had accumulated there over a couple of weeks. I was surprised to hear the voice of Beate, one of the nurses at the NICU, on the other end of the phone congratulating us on taking our baby home and wishing us all the best. Beate, a middling older woman, long emigrated from Germany, was one of the many nurses who provided patient, loving care both to our baby and us (the latter often being the needier of the two). She wore tiger-printed clogs and had a sharp and even mind that defied the old age beginning to show in her gait. That she would take the time to call me at home to wish us well moved me, the simple act of service betraying that deeper and selfless characteristic of good that made me all the more grateful to her for her service to our family.

Our next baby came early too. And although I expected him to, I was still devastated to hear the news that he would have to be sent to the NICU. Walking into the NICU unit surfaced a plague of emotions I wasn’t prepared to face. Memories of the fear for the health of my child, the anxieties over the recovery of my wife, and the longing to take our first child home permeated the entryway, the parent’s lounge, the monitors, and the sliding glass doors as we walked into our second child’s room. I wasn’t as worried for this child as I was the last one — I knew he was going to be okay, his older sibling as proof — but for some reason, the feelings of sadness and grief were as fresh as they were before.

It had only been 20 months since our last visit to the NICU, and all I could think about were the nurses who had helped us before, and how deeply I hoped that they would still be there. We were 20 hours post-partum and those 20 hours had been filled with what felt like every range of emotion in the human experience: hope, pride, fear, sadness, worry, and joy, to name a few. In that sleep-deprived state, I prayed earnestly that the nurses that we had come to love and trust to take care of our first would also be there to take care of our second. Like clinging to a buoy in a raging ocean, I clung to the idea that at least one of the nurses from before would be there this time as well.

Sure enough, after going through some basic admission procedures, in walks Beate with her tiger-printed clogs. I didn’t expect her to remember us. But she said she did, accusing us of being “repeat offenders” with a German accent and a smile. She said it’s easy to remember the ones who smile. It’s possible she was lying; I don’t remember being particularly smiley. She might not have actually remembered us — she probably didn’t remember us — but I don’t even care. To see her brought such calm to my heart that I had a hard time keeping back tears.

I’m sitting in the NICU right now, probably still over-tired and emotional, but at peace. I feel an urgency to document this experience. I want the kindness that was shown to us in the NICU to sink into my heart forever as an example of how even the most simple acts of service can have such powerful consequences in the lives of their receivers, often unknown to the givers.