My email inbox is usually filled with letters of happiness, but I got one not too long ago that broke my heart.
This poor woman, Hilary, had dealt with loss after loss, and yet she was writing to tell me about all of the kindness she was able to experience through her difficulties.
I read the email to my husband who had a much different take on it than I did. I’ll let you read the letter and then tell you what my husband said.
“Dear Nicole, Feb. 18, 2013, was the worst day of my life. Six months after the death of my mother, my brother, Sean, and I were helping care for our father during his final illness. He eventually died of cancer. My brother, to whom my father had left his small business, attended a national conference the next week.
“On Feb. 18, Sean, his partner, Judy, and my then-16-year-old nephew were driving from Minnetonka to attend Dad’s funeral.
“Just west of Barnesville, they were involved in a horrible accident that killed Sean and Judy and left my nephew with life-threatening injuries.
“Family had assembled at the church an hour before the scheduled funeral service; we knew my brother had a long drive and initially weren’t concerned by his absence. Many of the other attendees, however, exclaimed about the road conditions, and neither Sean nor Judy responded to our increasingly urgent calls and text messages.
“After the service, we were unable to focus on the kind wishes of funeral attendees, and explained our distress to the pastor. He and Michele Walloch of Boulger Funeral Home immediately set about making phone calls. Within 15 minutes, troopers arrived at the church with the agonizing news.
“A year later, the days surrounding my father’s death are both a foggy blur and achingly immediate. There are so many people who were kind and helpful – my family and I are grateful first to Pastor Josh Schunk and Walloch, who responded to our confusion and pleas for help with calm efficiency.
“The troopers who came to confirm the news were patient, professional and compassionate, helping us sort out whom to contact and how. We are especially grateful to Lt. Brian Cheney, who called to check on us and visited my nephew in the hospital.
“My nephew received diligent care at the accident site and was quickly transported to Sanford Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit, where staff treated him and us with care and respect. The nurses always took time to respond to our concerns and questions, and made us feel part of a team.
“The first responders in Barnesville retrieved personal belongings from Judy’s car so family members could avoid seeing it.
“Ryan Erdman was working on a Minnesota Department of Transportation team along the area of Interstate 94 where my brother’s accident happened and stumbled across Sean’s wallet. Not only did he return the wallet, but it arrived – grubby and salt-encrusted – complete with the $100 bill my brother had apparently tucked behind his license.
“In the midst of everything else, I just couldn’t manage organizing my brother’s funeral. Judy’s sister and brother-in-law, Jean and Mark Sabre, graciously included us in their beautiful celebration.
“Friends and old teammates of my brother traveled from as far away as California and Paris, and related wonderful (and appalling) stories of team hijinks.
“Staff from Hospice of the Red River Valley who had made it possible for my father to spend his last days at home stayed in contact. My dad’s friends and colleagues wrote, called, visited and delivered meals. Members of the community, from the woman at the office supply store who scanned funeral documents for me, to the staff at my father’s credit union, expressed their condolences, and months after the accident, remembered to ask after my nephew’s recovery.
“Most of all, my father’s widow, Ann Braaten, and all her family embraced us with such affection and comfort that we never felt alone.
“Now, a year later, my husband and I have left Fairfax County, Va., after living there for over 25 years, and own a home in Moorhead. When we tell people the news, they often respond aghast, ‘Why? It’s so cold there!’
“Well, right now it is cold outside. But there’s plenty of warmth if you need it.”
I read that letter, to my husband, who said, “Honey, it’s sad and touching, but it’s not about kindness. Those people were just doing their jobs.”
I thought for a moment before I answered him. Kindness doesn’t have to happen on a mission field or by emptying your bank account. Kindness can happen right where you are, doing just what you do, but by doing it with love. Every action taken, when done with love, matters.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at email@example.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is an author, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Bison Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.