Is it possible to turn a tragic experience into an opportunity to live more fully and love more openly? Absolutely.

I hear about people who take death, disease and other disasters and somehow find the strength to exhibit kindness through their despair.

I got this letter from a man who went through a very dark time several years ago and ended up learning to be the light.

“I once heard that every curse comes with a blessing but didn’t understand it until life-threatening cancer struck without warning. That curse indeed brought unexpected blessings. I wouldn’t have chosen to go through the experience, but it’s made me a better person.

“The diagnosis came just before Christmas, and I had much less than an even chance of surviving five years. I told my adult children, both of whom had drifted away from the church in which they’d been active as youth, that the only Christmas gift I wanted that year was for them to join my wife and me in worship on Christmas Eve. They did, and it was wonderful.

“On Christmas Day, the four of us carried on our tradition of going to a family movie together. While buying popcorn, I sensed the young lady behind the counter was working on the holiday because her family needed the money. Realizing I didn’t know how many more times I’d celebrate Christmas with my family, her sacrifice touched me deeply.

“When she gave me the popcorn, I handed her money equal to twice the order and said, ‘Keep the change. Thanks for working today. I hope you have a good Christmas with your family when you get home tonight.’ She gave me a startled look, teared up, and said, ‘That’s the nicest thing anyone ever did for me!’ Intuition confirmed, I teared up, too.

“Leaving the theater, I reflected on how an extravagant tip can be such an unexpected kindness. And I didn’t have to be wealthy to put the idea into practice. In a restaurant, simply adding $1 above the usual percentage tip would transform it into a resounding expression of appreciation for the service. I resolved to do it as often as my health allows. I rarely see the result, but am confident I’ve generated many smiles a dollar at a time.

“My new habit unexpectedly led to friendship in another setting. My wife and I subscribe to a concert series and buy discounted parking garage tickets in our package. It dawned on me that this was another opportunity for frugal extravagance as kindness.

“Arriving for the next concert, I handed the garage attendant the usual pre-paid parking stub, but slipped her the amount of the discount, too. She tried to hand it back, but I refused: ‘With the discount, I get to park for the regular price and thank you at no extra charge.’ She was surprised and grateful.

“At the next concert, I realized that after years of concerts, we knew each other by sight, but not by name. I introduced myself, and she reciprocated. In the following years, we’ve carried on a conversation, seconds at a time while I go through the garage gate. She asks about my health, and I keep up with how she and her husband are doing. It’s become a bonus feature for the concert evening.

“And that’s another blessing with the curse: Before the cancer, I rarely went out of my way to establish new relationships. Now I recognize each as a unique gift to myself wrapped in kindness shown to others.

“After aggressive treatment, my prognosis improved dramatically. I’ll likely survive well past that five-year threshold that seemed so unlikely at first. But for however many years of good health remain, I’ll enjoy surprising people with frugal extravagance and count each opportunity a blessing for myself.”

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at 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