The kindness of strangers

My family is celebrating my birthday this weekend. My mom and dad, who live in Tucson, reminded me that a card and gift were on the way. I came home the other night, and my wife had an envelope addressed to me on the table. The writing was pretty messy. I was certain it was not the card my parents had mentioned. It was a thick envelope, and the return address sticker was from a person I did not know. In fact, there were multiple return address stickers. Suffice to say, it looked odd, and we were a little concerned about opening it.

As I went to see what was inside the envelope, my wife jokingly said, “Be sure to wear your mask.” After we laughed, I opened it up, and sure enough, my parents’ birthday card was there. But it was placed inside another card. I was seriously confused. The outer card was generic and had a handwritten phone number—something else I didn’t recognize.

The inside card was from MY PARENTS. It had a great note: “It’s hard to believe that 52 years have passed since that early morning in 1969 when you were born. I can still recall when they showed me to you—you were a ‘double blinker disturbed by the bright light.’ So much has happened as you have grown up and taken on great responsibilities. We are as proud of you today as we were on the day you were born.” They wrote more, and, I’ll get to that later. Also, in that card was a check—their birthday present—but there was also a crisp $100 bill.

I wondered if my parents were pulling a joke. As I explained the mystery to them, they were more confused than me. They had no idea what was going on. My mom said they had mailed me a card. Then, I asked what they put in it as a gift. My mom said a check. I asked, “Was there a $100 bill in there?” She said no.

It dawned on us that somehow my birthday card and gift ended up in the hands of this person who took the effort to get my parents’ birthday card to me.

The second half of my parents’ letter noted, “This year has been such a challenge for all schools, and it sounds like you and the faculty/staff have handled the responsibility for the safety and well-being of your students with intelligence, grace, and concern. We hope and pray that life can return to a sense of normalcy and security soon.”

I decided a phone call to the unknown number was in order. I had to thank the sender and find out what motivated him to give me—a total stranger—a crisp $100 bill.

Turns out that his name is John. He is 92 years old and lives outside of Phoenix. He instantly recognized my name and was relieved that I had received his letter. He said he gets tons of mail and was opening up a stack of envelopes without reading the labels. John said he saw my card, read it, saw the check, and decided to throw in another hundred! John said that his kids call him Santa Claus, because he is always giving away money. I told him what I did for a living and said that I was going to donate that $100 to Colorado Academy’s CA Cares program that supports families and students impacted by the pandemic’s economic fallout. He then went on to tell me that he lost his wife a few years ago and can’t take care of his dog anymore. He has a son and a daughter (who tried to help figure out how to contact my parents directly). I thanked him and told him how refreshing it is to meet someone with such a generous spirit.

We live in tough times. It is amazing to see kind souls in our midst who take the time to do the right thing. It was one of the best birthday presents I have ever received.