There are plenty of people who risk their lives to help keep us safe. When we think of heroes, we usually think of military soldiers, police officers, firefighters, or someone else who is in harm’s way each day. This year we have to add doctors, nurses, and other essential workers to that list.
While these folks deserve our thanks and appreciation, I want to focus on the unsung heroes of the world. They are the people who give the gift of themselves, not for any other reason than it’s the right thing to do. As writer C.S. Lewis so eloquently penned, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” These are the times in our lives that reveal our real character.
Last week, I had a delightful moment that reminded me that sometimes the simplest acts of kindness carry the most weight. Right after the pandemic started, my gym shut down. Since that had become part of my routine, I missed it right away. I’m at the age where an arthritic back and knee remind me that I’m not as young as I used to be. Because I need to be mindful of my physical and mental health, I walk nearly every day. As a creature of habit, I have a few places around the county where I walk regularly.
One of my favorite spots is a rectangular loop that takes me past the zoo, park, and one of our local schools. It’s about a mile. Since I don’t own a Fitbit or some other device that counts my steps, it’s my simple way of tracking how many miles I’ve walked. It wasn’t long before I began to notice that many other people were doing the same thing. After a few weeks, I began to recognize several of the same faces.
I’m typically a pretty friendly person by nature. Understanding that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, I try to be sensitive to others. I pull my mask up, say hello, and give a wave. We can read a person’s eyes, but they don’t reveal as much as the entire face can. As time passed, some of the regulars and I stopped for a quick word. It was my way of keeping things regular in abnormal times.
One of the people I began to see a lot of was an older man who was frequently picking up trash in the area. He wasn’t particularly steady on his feet, and yet here he was day after day. He greeted me and others with great gusto as if we were long-lost friends. I promised myself I would offer my thanks and ask him how he got started with what appeared to be a routine part of his week the next time we crossed paths.
This past week I fulfilled that promise, but then I got a whole lot more than I bargained for. I introduced myself and asked him his name. After thanking Jack for his generous act of kindness to our community, we engaged in conversation for the next ten minutes.
In the course of our talk, he mentioned that he used to be a teacher. As a retired elementary teacher, I’m always happy to meet a fellow educator. The logical follow-up question was to ask what and where he taught. That’s when things got more interesting. He said that he had taught anthropology, sociology, and history at Arcata High (my alma mater) and our local junior college, College of the Redwoods. As a graduate of Arcata High in 1977 and someone who took a few classes at College of the Redwoods, I was now even more intrigued.
I related to him that I was an Arcata High graduate and asked him his full name. When he said Jack Storm, I immediately recognized the surname. I knew I hadn’t taken any classes from him, but I wondered if he might know my old English teacher, Barbara Storm. Know her? He married her. Now in their eighties, they are retired and living in the same city I live in. How great is that?
I thought my old teacher might light like to know that I became an educator and later wrote a book about my teaching career as a means of paying it forward to the next generation of teachers. I asked Jack to tell his wife that my future goals include writing children’s novels for middle grades. (I’m going over my first novel with my writing group right now.) I had to imagine that an English teacher would be proud to know that her efforts made a difference in my life.
What a serendipitous meeting! It’s incredible what you get back when you reach out to others. Jack may be unaware of how his act of kindness inspired me, but I intend to join him one day soon in his cleanup efforts.