Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Little Kindnesses Mean a Lot

Long after his death,

a little gift from a former SL mayor lives on...

Given enough time, most of us come to realize that kindnesses are very seldom wasted. When you create one, it somehow keeps getting passed around, and once in a while, it even comes back to you.

There are true artists at this among us - missionaries, benefactors, teachers, healers, ministers, people with amazing gifts to touch others and save or change lives.

And then there's the rest of us - the ordinary, muddling souls stumbling our way imperfectly through life. Not only do we have no miracles to give to others; we are well aware that half the time we don't have a clue what we are doing in our own lives.

But still, we were raised to care. We take a covered dish when a neighbor is in need, we stop when a car is stuck in the snow, we tighten up the grocery budget so we can give a few bucks to the local coats-for-kids drive, we find a kind word when someone is hurting, we don't give directions to a lost stranger, we take them there.

We don't even think of them as kindnesses. Nah, it's nothing, just the way life is. We don't save anybody, and we don't have millions to give away to build great things. We certainly don't think that we'll ever hear of any of these little things we do again.

Some of you may remember Wilbur Tucker, the former mayor of Storm Lake.

At five-foot-nothing, he was a little sack of dynamite. He was one of those guys who did a lot of little things. He passed away a number of years ago.

Flash forward 20 years, to the office of a doctor in Orange City, a former Storm Lake High School student by the name of Al Laird.

"Today I saw a very kind Oriental man in our office who has had some significant problems," Dr. Laird relates. "To make a long story short, he wanted to show me pictures of people that have been kind to him or he has a special memory of. The first one he showed me looked very familiar, but I couldn't place it until he told me that the man in the picture was the mayor of Storm Lake... I would guess the picture to be in the 1980's given the hair styles and the glasses. He said this man had taught him how to speak English and he was able to work and help his family because of what this man had done for him. So a man from a foreign country alone in the U.S. working hard to help his family back in the homeland, continues to remember this man and the kindness the man showed him. I have no idea how many times this could be repeated with other people the man came into contact with, but he has left a legacy - one that reaches around the globe to touch a family and make their lives better."

The letter was sent to my friend Kim Dale. The man in the picture was her father, Wilbur Tucker.

"Thought you'd like to know," Dr. Laird wrote at the bottom.

And he adds a footnote, from the book of Matthew, I believe:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."

You just never know whose life you are going to touch, when you give out a little random kindness.

There are many stories like this. We told you one recently of a mysterious local "Santa Claus" who left a hundred dollars under his plate when the owner of a struggling little cafe in Odebolt opened her doors to feed a person who was hungry.

The other day a college journalism student called to ask me about what words of wisdom I would have for young people coming into the business.

Wisdom? Me? Oh man, have I gotten that old? The first thing that popped to mind is the old adage "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

"Huh? What does that mean?" the kid asked. "Oh, you'll figure it out," I smiled.

Even in this jaded old business, tiny acts can pay off unexpectedly.

I got a call the other day from a woman who grew up a couple of towns over from me here in rural Iowa. She now works at a renowned neuroligical hospital in San Francisco. Through some crazy little miracle, a story I had written here about a Storm Lake family with an ill teenager robbed of all her abilities of movement by a mysterious disease changed hands and changed hands and wound up in hers. She roused out the lofty physicians who are now interested in helping my friends here in Storm Lake. I don't know what if anything will come of it, but that call sure did my heart some good.

I once wrote about a woman who survived horrible beatings and escaped, eventually giving back much to those around her. I didn't want to give out her name, but because of her shiny red hair, I called her "Penny" in the story.

Years later, a woman came in and left a coin on my desk; no name, no message. Didn't need one. That shiny penny told me my friend is alright, and I wouldn't part with that bit of treasure for a million bucks.

Hey! Who will you touch today?