Kindness is a tricky thing. Sometimes it comes so naturally: I walk out of my house and feel like smiling at strangers, holding the door for people and leaving a little extra money in the tip jar at the coffee shop.
Other days, I wake up wondering why everyone has to be so noisy, why the driver in front of me just cut me off and why it takes so long to get my coffee.
I recently got a letter from Betty Gorden. I love it because I think it reflects how full people’s lives can be when they choose to be kind. Betty chose to volunteer and although she wasn’t initially welcomed, her perseverance – her on-purpose kindness – has led to a beautiful fullness in her life and the life of a stranger.
“Hi Nicole, I was introduced to Joyce in November of 2011, when I became a senior companion volunteer for Lutheran Social Services.
“My supervisor and I met Joyce at her modest home, where we introduced ourselves and searched out some commonalities. Joyce enjoyed crocheting, quilting and baking. I thought for a moment, this could be a problem.
“Then she mentioned ‘lefse.’ I nearly jumped up off my chair and said, ‘Oh! I could help you with that!’ I was surprised when I didn’t get a response from Joyce, just a somber look.
“Normally, we schedule visits one day a week. When we asked Joyce how often she would like me to visit, her reply was, “Oh, maybe once a month.” I suggested we try it one day a week, and if she was not comfortable with this, she could call my supervisor. With her still-somber look, she agreed.
“Perhaps her drive for independence and self-reliance began when she joined the Navy in World War II, after graduating from high school in Clifford, N.D. Perhaps it was after getting married and raising four daughters. Or, maybe it was working the night shift at Bethany Homes for 15 years and then retiring to be full-time caretaker to her husband, who suffered a debilitating stroke. It could have been when she broke her hip and her husband had to be admitted to the nursing home.
“I learned all this about Joyce after several shopping trips to the grocery store to purchase flour, butter and cream for her lefse project. We learned more about each other over the next two months as I watched her mix, roll, flip and fry.
“Even with my experience participating in lefse bees for YWCA fundraisers, I was not invited to help. My only helping hand was driving her to the grocery store to pick up more flour, cream and butter. I couldn’t even assist in carrying the groceries for this woman who had just celebrated her 90th birthday.
“I have had many two-hour visits with Joyce since we met. We still meet every Tuesday. Usually you will find us grocery shopping at Cash Wise and then stopping to have coffee and a treat, which Joyce has insisted on buying me from the beginning.
“This friendship story probably doesn’t stand out from others, but words cannot express my feel-good experience from this, and I just wanted to share.
“For me, it wasn’t the Christmas card she slipped to me in the car that included the words, ‘good for one lutefisk dinner at the Sons of Norway,’ nor has it been the bags of lefse that I have devoured, nor the thank-you note she sent me for attending her birthday party.
“It was the valentine card I received that read:
“My life just wouldn’t be the same
“Without a friend like you in it.
“Without all our heart to hearts
“Without all the great laughs,
“Without all the good times,
“Betty, you’re a very special friend to me,
“and I’m so thankful that you’re a part of my life.
“Happy Valentine’s Day
Thank you, Betty, for sharing that beautiful story of kindness and friendship, reminding us that sometimes we have to work at the things in life that matter the most.
Please share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.
Nicole Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo, and currently the executive director of Diva Connection Foundation. She is the mother of three kids and the wife of Bison men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday.