The history books are filled with the names of successful people. Some were good at being good, and others were notoriously bad. But just because books record the existence of many doesn’t mean that history will remember everyone noteworthy. Even Wikipedia — the gargantuan online encyclopedia of human contact — only has so much room. People must merit attention by enough other folks to gain acclaim.
So each year, for my final column of the year, I pay tribute to the truly decent folk who’ve caught my eye, even though few others know the extent of their goodness.
I met April when she was just a cute kid. I doubt the radio station where we worked was her first job, but it must’ve been close. April wasn’t just Kewpie doll adorable; she was consistently happy and full of energy. I lost touch with her when she changed jobs.
Recently, April contacted me to see if there was a homeless kid she could help for the holidays. Like so many other folks who help others this time of year, she generously purchased gifts, showed her children what caring for strangers meant, and then mailed me the presents the same day she mailed her husband’s package to him in Afghanistan. April’s compassion for others even while she and her husband make daily sacrifices of loneliness and fear is I’m sure emblematic of other soldiers and their families at this time of the year.
Back when I ran Eastern Maine Health Care’s Children’s Miracle Network, I had the honor to work with many astonishingly ill and injured children and their valiant parents. One such parent came out of the woodwork — literally — to continue helping others this year. Good with his hands, he wanted to make toys for every single kid in our homeless shelter.
Months after I heard from him — because the box was too enormous to ship conventionally — a transit bus driver delivered Larry’s presents to us. He had painstakingly made at least one gift for every child. I can’t imagine the time it took.
If you listen carefully to parents who’ve been told that their child may die, or never walk again, or never have children of their own, you’d swear you could hear their hearts break. When broken-hearted people persevere, prevail and then go on to help others, it’s awe-inspiring to witness.
Last week, I wrote about a woman I called Miriam — this is as close to a sequel in my column as I will ever get — who wanted only one thing for Christmas, and that was a tombstone for her child’s grave. Just hours after it was printed, I began receiving e-mails from folks who were touched by her story. I even got a call from the Bangor Daily News receptionist saying that a man had walked into the lobby wanting to help.
One of the letters I received was from someone who summed up Miriam’s situation empathetically: “My son died 37 years ago. We were young; we had very little money, so he never had a stone to mark his grave. I understand how that woman feels. Please tell me how I can help your homeless lady get a stone for her daughter’s grave. She needs to know that when she is gone, the world will know that her daughter was here — that she lived here, that she mattered.”
I’ve gotten checks — none large enough to buy the stone alone, but if everyone who pledged follows through, there should be plenty. Many folks asked me to contact them again if we got close but fell short. Others told me to keep any excess for the shelter where I work and where Miriam lives.
One of my favorite calls came from a man who told me, “I read your column every week, although I don’t know why.” I laughed so — he’s obviously read it all these years waiting to learn about Miriam, because his check’s already arrived.
Year after year, I’ve been privileged to witness great kindness and consequently made this meager, 700-word attempt at year’s end to recognize some small measure of it. I’d never want to forget how fortunate I am to “drink a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.