Nicole J. Phillips
Last week, I shared part one of the story of a single mom struggling to make ends meet with her teenage son. It's the backdrop of pain in our lives that gives our joy such brilliance. And often, it's receiving an act of kindness at just the right time that spurs us to do the same for others. Here's the conclusion of our story. "I had just spent the 99 cents scraped from my couch cushions on my burger when my phone rang. My mind was still on the young man working at the drive-thru, wearing just a T-shirt because he didn't have enough money to buy a coat.
It's our stories that build the color into our lives. Yes, there is often pain as they are being written, but without that pain we wouldn't know real joy. I want to spend this week and next sharing the story of a mom and her teenage son, and the beauty that unfolded when one act of kindness led to the next. "My son was a freshman in high school. I was a single mom. Money was always tight. It was December and I had less than $20 to fill the gas tank, put food on the table and keep money in my son's school lunch account until payday.
Are you done? Have you finished all the hustle and bustle that comes with creating the magic of the season? If so, good for you! (Now can you come to my house and help me?) If not, take heart. Ironically, it's in the midst of our craziest schedules that we are most blessed with the chance to show other people they are not alone. Maybe you adopt a family for Christmas or pull a child's name off a giving tree. Maybe you donate canned goods to the food bank or serve a meal at the homeless shelter.
FARGO — My friend, Tania, has been going through a whirlwind year of transition. One year ago, she sold her dream house, the one she had designed, built and lovingly decorated eight years prior. She and her husband felt a call on their lives to downsize. Even with two kids still in the house, they knew it was time to let go of the big and the beautiful and focus instead on living on less. This change of lifestyle means that her husband will get to retire much earlier than expected, so they took the plunge, sold their house and bought a smaller place to renovate.
Does what I do matter? Have you ever thought that to yourself? Perhaps you've been in the checkout lane when the cashier asks if you'd like to donate a dollar to end world hunger. Or maybe you've dropped off old towels and blankets so they could be sent to some area of devastation overseas. Most recently, I was asked to donate bottles of water to the hurricane victims. Does the little bit we do for others make a difference? It's hard to know when the solution is slow coming and we never actually see the people benefitting.
FARGO — In my family, instead of Thanksgiving turkey, we pull out of the all-holiday ham. We will continue pulling it out for leftovers for the next week, starting today: RAK Friday. Oh, I'm sorry. Did you think it was called Black Friday? Nah, that's so 1990s. You know, when people loved standing in line overnight to get the new superfly boombox with detachable speakers? Or pulling a total stranger's hair to get her out of the way when she was reaching for the last Cabbage Patch doll? Okay, maybe that all happened in the '80s, but you get my point.
I have written more than 300 stories for this column, but I'd have many more to share if it weren't for one tiny phrase that keeps repeating itself in a variety of forms. "I don't want to toot my own horn." "I hate to brag." "If I get my rewards on Earth, I won't get them in Heaven." "I was taught to give in private." Now I love the humble heart behind this sentiment, but I learned something recently that has changed the way I think about those responses.
FARGO — My daughter wants me to run a half-marathon with her. Not just any race, she wants to run the Walt Disney World half marathon. I suppose since she's 13, she will want me to pay for it too. It all sounds a little goofy to me. (I'm sorry. I just couldn't resist.) I told her that as a 42-year-old non-runner, there was no way I could convince my body to move briskly for 13.1 miles. That was when she reminded me that my own mother ran her first full marathon on her 60th birthday. Okay, point taken.
If I were left to my own devices, there is no way you would be reading this kindness column right now. I know nothing about printing a newspaper or scheduling delivery routes. I know even less about how the internet works and how to get the newspaper on a home computer. The only way I'm able to get out this message of kindness is because of the kindness of others who excel in areas beyond my expertise.
When I think about the very first acts of kindness I can recall, I think about my mom. I remember her teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in our small town. How scary it must have been for her students to move to a new country and not know how to communicate. My mom felt their apprehension and gave them her language and her heart. In exchange we often had beautiful handmade gifts or delicious treats in our home that spoke of deep cultural roots. Sarah Tachon, grew up, just like me, watching her mom live out kindness. She still remembers one story in particular.