A Kindness Remembered

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“I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me!  It has made all the difference, and if I ever get the chance to repay your kindness . . .”

 Have you ever made a statement like that to a surgeon or attorney, teacher or mentor?  Perhaps you expressed that sentiment to someone who was your tenth-grade best friend or college roommate.  Maybe it was your mother or father, sister or brother.  I suspect we’ve all made those sincere declarations.

But here’s the tough question:  Have you carried through?  The emotional expression of gratitude for kindness comes easier than remembering to pay back—or perhaps to pass along—similar goodwill when circumstances change.

Way back in 1867, Columbia, South Carolina, was trying to get back on its feet after the devastation of the Civil War.  The New York Firemen’s Association learned the city was still using bucket brigades to fight fires.  So New Yorkers raised money to buy Columbia a fire wagon.  When it was lost during shipment, the same people took up yet another collection and sent a second one.

City officials spoke with one voice to thank New York for its gift and vowed never to forget so great a kindness.  A former Confederate Col. Samuel Melton was so dumbfounded by the generosity of men who had only a few years earlier served in the Union Army that he spoke on behalf of South Carolina’s capital city and promised to return the favor “should misfortune ever befall the Empire City.”

In the aftermath of September 11, students at White Knoll Middle School led a drive to raise the $354,000 necessary to replace one of the fire trucks lost that day.   Spurred on by the historical anecdote just related, the South Carolina Remembers Fund received a total of $510,000.

During the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York last week, four students made good on Columbia’s 134-year-old promise.  “When we presented the check [for $354,000] to Mayor Giuliani,” said Staci Smith, “he just had the biggest smile on his face.”  The extra money will be used to upgrade the truck or to buy other firefighting equipment needed by the New York Fire Department.

Spend a few minutes today going through your personal life history for any outstanding debts you owe persons for kindnesses received.  If something specific comes to mind, let the story of some middle-school children remind you to carry through in some practical way with your promise never to forget.

Rubel Shelly

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