One day, a professor presented his pupils with a pop quiz. As the students filed into the classroom, they saw a piece of paper on each desk, face down.
When everyone was seated, the professor told them to turn over the papers. To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions, just a black dot in the center of the sheet. The professor, seeing the confusion on the students’ faces, simply said, “Write about what you see.”
Toward the end of class, the professor collected all the exams and started reading each one out loud, in front of the students.
All of them, with no exception, defined the black dot, trying to explain its position in the center of the sheet.
When he had finished reading them all, the professor said, “I’m not going to grade you on this, I just wanted to give you something to think about. No one wrote about the white part of the paper. Everyone focused on the black dot. The same happens in our lives. We have a white piece of paper to observe and enjoy, but we always focus on the dark spots: the health issues, the lack of money, the complicated relationships. The dark spots are very small when compared to everything else in our lives, but they’re the ones that pollute our minds. Our life is a gift given to us by God. There are always reasons to celebrate. Change your focus. Learn to see the white space on the page instead of the black dot.”
My friend, Galo Kostka, sent me that short story in an email. I’m not sure who originally wrote it, but I took the liberty of modifying it a bit for this column.
When I first read it, I thought about all of the daily things that threaten to steal my joy. The little black dots, like sticky countertops and messy rooms, can quickly become magnified and eclipse the blessings of actually having countertops or things to put in those rooms.
The second time I read it, I thought about my job as a parent. Would my children look back and see my blunders, my black dots, or would they see their childhood as a mostly clean, bright, white piece of paper?
The third time I read it, I thought about my own childhood. I look back far too often and remember the divorce, the times my dad was too strict or not strict enough, and the times I was left to figure things out on my own. I forget about all the white spaces.
Dad, in honor of Father’s Day, I’m stealing this little section of the paper to tell you that I remember the good stuff. I hope you know I do.
I remember being 6 years old and singing “Home, Home on the Range” at the top of our lungs as we rode horseback all over countryside.
I remember being 14 and stepping on your toes as some poor cowboy tried to teach us the two-step, and being secretly proud to dance with my dad.
I remember being 16 and nursing a heartache and you cutting a quote from the newspaper for me that said, “Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers, go plant your own garden.”
You always believed in me, Dad, when I wanted to be a model or live in France or become Miss Wisconsin. You never once doubted I could do it. Or if you did, you never let me know it, and you always paid the bill. Thank you.
To all the other sons and daughters out there, including my own, I hope you’ll use this holiday to begin looking at life through a new lens. Instead of focusing on what could have been better, I hope you’ll train your eyes to see how good it really was and continues to be.
Removing the black dot makes more room on the page for kindness.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.