benediction

by Toni McGee Causey

"Can I help you, sir?" she asked from behind the counter.

He pushed his deposit slip forward with his check. The last check he'd be depositing. They'd let everyone go today. It was his fourth layoff. He kept being hired; the companies kept going under. He'd been making half what he used to, and he was out of answers. 

He shoved his hands into his jeans, rolling his shoulders beneath his too-thin coat. Blizzard conditions expected. Near white-out warnings. Not that he cared. He wouldn't be out in it.

Everything was done. This was the last of it.

He watched her hands as she slid the check along the counter, ran it and then the deposit slip through the machine. He didn't normally bank at this branch, though it had been convenient today, at the end of his errands. She finished her work and fished off the receipt, tucking it into an envelope and asked, "Anything else I can do for you?" as she handed it over.

"Nothing," he shrugged and headed for the door across the big marble floor of the lobby. This building had been built nearly a century ago, back when everyone knew their customers, knew their daily lives, the ins and outs of things, could call them by name. He was invisible here, now. 

Later, they would see he'd been here, see the deposit. Wonder what he was thinking. And all he'd been able to think about was being invisible. 

He was almost to the door when her hand was on his arm and her brown eyes smiled at him. She'd been calling his name and he hadn't heard, and he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from yanking his arm from her and pushing on through the door. She was breathless for the short run, and expectant. It was one more minute, and one more minute didn't really matter.

"I remember you," she was saying. "Over on Stempley." He must've given her a look as blank as he felt inside, and she smiled, and squeezed his arm a little. He hadn't realized she hadn't dropped her hand away. "The flat tire. Weather almost as bad as today. You saved my mom's life."

"You have the wrong man," he said. Gruff, probably. Didn't matter. He just wanted to get out of there.

She laughed. "No, no, I don't mean there, on Stempley. You stopped and changed my tire. And then my battery was dead because I was stupid and left the headlights on that whole time I'd been waiting for the tow truck, so you had to jump off my car."

Ah, yeah. He remembered. The collage girl. He'd thought she looked like a nearly drowned puppy when he'd seen her, shivering, trying to change the tire. The lug nuts had been put on by some idiot with an impact wrench and were too tight for her to loosen. The tow truck still hadn't come by the time he'd finished.

"I lost your name," she said. "I got home to my mom's–that's where I was going that night–and when I got there, she'd fallen. She'd had a heart attack, and if you hadn't stopped, I'd have been an hour or more later. The paramedic said she wouldn't have made it." She stood on her tip toes and threw her arms around him. "Thank you. I have wanted to say thank you for so long. You have no idea how much you mean to me."

He stood dumbly with her arms around him and everyone in the lobby stared, wondering what this was all about, and the warmth of her pressed against his coat. She wasn't about to let go, this enthusiastic half-grown puppy, and he patted her on the head, and cleared his throat. 

She eased back and looked up at him and beamed. "I'd like to buy you coffee. Next week sometime? I'll be here, every day."

He nodded. He wouldn't be there, but it would be too much trouble to make up a reason. "Sure. Coffee. Next week." Then he pushed on out the door.

I sat across from him at the little table, some twenty years later. I had only known him this way, old and creased, hair silvered to a sheen, blue eyes dancing. He smiled often and well, a warm event that pulled you in.  

"I went home," he said, finishing his story, his thumb running across the rim of his coffee cup, his eyes grown distant. "And thought. A lot of thinking. Poured the Jack down the drain. Unloaded the gun. Threw the bullets out in the ditch, so I wouldn't change my mind. I could get another job. Another house. And I did."

Be the gift, he was fond of saying, and I heard that echo when I stood a few years later at the back of the church. It was a packed place, many mourners, and I had to press through the crowd to work my way to the front to pay my respects to his wife. I could see the warm brown eyes he'd described, the brown hair gone gray. He'd gone back for coffee that next week, he'd told me. His daughter had his eyes. 

I told her he'd read my writing when no one else had, and had smiled, and said, "You can do this."

Be the gift.

~*~
Tell me, please, about any random kindness you've seen this holiday season, and help me pass it on.

23 thoughts on “benediction

  1. cj lyons

    Toni, I read this earlier this morning (Murderati is my wake-me-up routine) but couldn’t bring myself to comment, I was so moved. You made me cry, again!!!

    Your sharing this story was a true act of kindness!

    Wish I could say that I’d seen more this season, but other than the usual (and never taken for granted!) kindness and generosity of my friends and family, I haven’t seen much.

    As someone who’s worked more Christmases than I’ve been home for the holiday, I can tell you that isn’t as unusual as you’d hope it was. Can not even begin to tell you the stories of people who made Scrooge look like a Saint when they came to our ER on Christmas.

    But, I’ve been lucky enough to also see more than my fair share of holiday miracles, so it’s wonderful to have a blog post like this to pass on and remind people that Life Is Hope.

    Thanks for sharing and Happy Holidays!CJ

    Reply
  2. R.J. Mangahas

    Wow, Toni. I don’t know what to say. What a beautiful post.

    Having worked retail during Christmas time, I tend to see people get very nasty, to the point that I’m embarrassed for them (like that poor Wal-Mart employee who was trampled to death by crazed shoppers).

    However, this past week, I did see someone take a homeless person into a small cafe near where I live and buy then a meal.

    I think that, random acts of kindness are a great thing, especially when it’s NOT during the holidays, but every day out of the year. My parents are a shining example of this. They take part in all kinds of volunteer programs at their church, including staying with the homeless overnight in the church basement and visiting prisoners. I have heard so many wonderful stories from my mom when they cam back from the prisons. The prisoners were so happy that there were people out there willing to see them as people and not just caged animals. If there were more people with the giving spirit of my parents, this world would probably be a much better place.

    Thanks again for the wonderful post Toni. And have a safe and happy holiday.

    Reply
  3. joylene

    I had my 3rd book signing at Save-On Bookstore in Pr. George. A man stopped by to admire my cover. He looked worn, as if he’d been through the wringer. He had a big smile and his eyes sparkled. His clothes were humble, but he stood tall and proud.

    He told me he was a poet and asked if I’d like to hear one of his poems. I said sure. It was a poem about Jesus saving him and washing away his fear. He was singing softly by the last verse. He told me he’d been blessed and had sold a few copies.

    Another man stopped by. He didn’t return my smile. He looked down at my book and asked what had happened to the Witness. I explained that the book was fiction. He said only the Bible was true. I thought, good grief, did these guys come as a pair?

    By now I was feeling inadequate and slightly overwhelmed. I hadn’t sold any books and I was still reeling from the less than motivating experience at another bookstore the day before even though I’d sold six.

    I can’t remember what the man said next. The Christian songwriter had separated himself from him by a few steps, and it was clear they were not together. The songwriter watched him closely.

    The man told me I better start reading the real word. He recited a few verses from James. Though I can’t remember his words verbatim, the gist was that I was going to hell if I didn’t put aside worldly pride and ask Jesus to be my Lord and Saviour.

    Suffice to say, I longed for home by that point. He spewed a few more comments, then said something cutting and walked away.

    I stood there speechless. I’m sure I was on the verge of crying.

    The songwriter shrugged and gave me a knowing nod. “Kind of an angry guy, eh?”

    I nodded.

    Me and my brown eyes must have looked pathetic, because he smiled, making his blue eyes sparkled even more. He glanced at the cover of my book, took note of my name and said, “Joylene? Fiction writers are one of God’s chosen people, don’t you know? They do God’s work through their stories. I can tell by just talking to you that your book is going to do very well.”

    And then he said God Bless and left.

    I don’t know if selling 15 books that day had anything to do with him, but I don’t think it hurt.

    Reply
  4. Mothrababe

    Toni, what a wonderful story. Thank you so much for sharing.

    A small amount of kindness can move mountains. Once, many years ago, I moved a shopping trolley out of the way of a huge suv driven by a harried mother with three tots in the back. She smiled at me kind of wearily, and we moved along. My husband, who’s witnessed me do things like this now and then asked “Why do you do that when you get no return?” My answer was a smile and “Because I can”. Hubby has a mother who whines constantly about how bad the world has treated her, etc, etc, etc. It’s wearying to hear day in and day out, but she’s essentially a good woman. She has a lovely house that she owns outright, a lot of money in the bank because her dead husband wasn’t as stupid as she thought he was, two trips home to the UK each year, and we two around for emergencies and sometimes fun. Sometimes I wish I could shake her and wake her up a bit, but most times, I see where she is coming from and give a little of my time to make her feel wanted, loved and appreciated. As I’ve since educated my husband, he needs to see beyond the obvious.

    We go to pains to help friends and family when they have troubled times. But I don’t think I’ve done anything as big as RJ’s family.

    Joylene: the world needs storytellers, the Songwriter knew this when he lifted your spirits. The smug, arrogant, and angry witnesser was looking for an obvious target to dump on. I’m sorry for him, that he can’t see through his anger and rigid doctrine to find the true christian compassion buried in his soul. I’m glad you felt better by days end and had sold some books. Someone higher smiled on you. šŸ˜€

    Marianne

    Reply
  5. Kate Douglas

    Years ago, before I’d published, I was growing terribly frustrated with writing and submitting and not selling. I finally sold my first story to an ebook publisher (this was in 1998, when absolutely no on knew what “ebooks” were)and our sales were horrible. Then I got my first RT review–two stars. We’re talking major discouragement. I had a collection of rejection letters going back almost fifteen years and I was ready to throw in the towel when a reviewer gave me a glowing review and nominated my book for an award. I remember thinking that just maybe I wasn’t so awful after all. I wrote and thanked her and she was so encouraging, and she kept up her encouragement over the years. We became friends. I kept writing and eventually my sales increased and the long awaited NY contract happened, but I’ve often wondered if I would have stuck it out without Patricia Lucas White’s steadfast encouragement. Pat’s an author as well, something I didn’t know at first, but I’ve always credited her for giving me the sense that I could do this job that had chosen me. She has fought cancer, and now it’s returned with a vengeance, but I know I’m not the only one Pat has helped find their way in this business. Some people manage to go through life automatically helping everyone they interact with–changing lives as they go. Pat taught me the concept of paying it forward, long before it was a buzzword. Please hold the good thought for her now–she’s an amazing woman with a very special grace all her own.

    Reply
  6. joylene

    Thanks for sharing, Kate. And thanks for the encouragement, Marianne. And thanks for helping me to start off the day right, Toni. You guys are all terrific.

    Merry Christmas.

    Reply
  7. Allison Brennan

    This year, when I’d expect people to be rushed and harried and frustrated, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to the small kindnesses–people opening doors for shoppers, people with lots of items letting the person with one go in front of them, and smiles. I’m sure there are a lot of examples of anger and frustration, but when I went shopping on Friday I left invigorated and hopeful. I’ve always tried to live by the example “Do unto others” and I think more people do than don’t.

    I can’t wait until IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE runs this year.

    Reply
  8. Neil Nyren

    Toni and Joylene — I don’t have a story of my own to share, but I thought yours were wonderful. On a gray and snowy day here in NYC, they were rays of light.

    Reply
  9. J.D. Rhoades

    Great post, Toni. And Allison, I’ve observed a lot of the same small kindnesses among shoppers. One stands out in particular: a harried looking young woman struggling with her shopping bags, a stroller, and two screaming toddlers. A young man in a leather jacket and a dyed-black faux-hawk stepped over and took her bags to her car for her s she could tend to her stressed out kids.

    Reply
  10. pari

    Toni,Like Allison and JD, I’ve been touched by the kindness I’ve witnessed in some hellatious shopping situations.

    There’ve been more smiles in the midst of all the worry this season, more people asking if I needed help carrying something or opening a door. I’ve felt the need to try harder too — to combat the bleakness with joy.

    Reply
  11. billie

    A personal one – though not on nearly so important a scale as what you shared today: last week I was shopping for stocking stuffers at our local tack shop. I was drooling over a very expensive bit that I have been wanting for my horse, and the shop owner offered to see if she could find the same bit but less expensive, to order for me. As she was looking through her vendor catalogs, she asked how much I was thinking of spending. I named a much much (about 1/4 the cost) amount, and she closed the catalogs.

    “You know, you’re such a wonderful customer – you have helped us make this store what it is, and I appreciate you. Let me sell you this bit for what you’re wanting to pay.”

    It was so sweet, and when I resisted, she said “let this be a gift from me to you, for your support and the positive energy you bring in here to us on a regular basis.”

    It was a double gift, really, her words, and the bit.

    I’ve experienced a LOT of this kind of thing this year, trying to do all my shopping locally, in the smaller, individually-owned shops in our little town.

    Reply
  12. Louise Ure

    Here’s a Tucson story, as mine often are.

    On a recent trip back home, my sister watched the middle-aged newspaper delivery man pull into our 94 year-old mother’s driveway, put the car in park, get out and come up to the front door to hand my mother her afternoon paper.

    “That’s so nice of you to do, so that she doesn’t have to go out and hunt it down outside. Do you personally deliver every paper?”

    “No,” he said. “I throw the rest of them. And truth be told, her subscription ran out nine months ago, but I just didn’t have the heart to drive past when I knew she’d be there at the door waiting for me.”

    Reply
  13. Michael McGovern

    Wonderful, touching story, thank you.

    It is astounding how despair can seem so utterly bottomless and without end when you’re in the midst of it, and then a random event can cause it to evaporate like a nightmare in the face of dawn.

    That’s one thing I enjoy about living in a place with winter: the snow and cold tend to bring people together and remind us that we do live in a community. If you’re stuck on the side of the road in California and no one helps you? Bummer, dude, sucks to be you. If you’re stuck in a blizzard and no one comes to your aid, there’s a real chance you could die. Big difference.

    Thanks again for the post, very thoughtful stuff.

    Reply
  14. Cornelia Read

    Toni, you made me cry, and thank you for this story. This is the first Christmas since ’97 that I’m back in touch with my dad and his second family. Means a lot to me but it’s all still very fragile. I don’t want to lose them again. I love this story, just for the idea that things can be pulled back and saved, even on the worst kind of brink.

    Reply
  15. Double T

    Beautiful story Toni,The story I have happened last Monday. It had been snowing here all day and there was about 4 inches of snow on the roadways. My co-worker Jen had just gotten off work at 4:00 and was heading home, not far from work. There was an accident, a car had rolled onto its top. Inside were a mother and daughter. Ther daughter was about 8 or 9. Jen was the first on the scene and stopped to help. The little girl was fine and Jen helped her get out of the car, but she was missing a shoe. Jen took her coat off and put it on the ground so the little girl could stand on it while she looked for the shoe. It was found, but in the mean time mom was “freaking out” (Jen’s words)and was trying to get out. Jen helped her out and with the help of a nurse who also stopped to help tried to get the mom sit down and stay still. Jen is standing there wearing a short sleeve shirt holding the little girl because she laid her coat down for the mom to sit on. Because of 3 other accidents within a mile of them, the ambulance could not get through so LifeFlight was called. The highway was shut down and the helicopter landed on the roadway. It flew the mother to the hospital about 40 miles away.Later that evening, Jen learned from a family member that the mother had suffered a broken neck but was expected to make a full recovery. The little girl only had a few minor bumps and bruises.

    To all may you have a SAFE and Happy Holidays. And may the New Year bring you blessings of continued health and happiness

    Reply
  16. Helena Harper

    This is a lovely story. The gentleman concerned reminds me of my father who willingly gave up his time to fix things for people, whether he knew them or not – he was very skilled with his hands and knew everything there was to know about cars – expecting nothing in return. A call would often come, someone

    ‘…in needof his technical expertise,or a daughter’s plea,’Can you take me into town, please?’No problem!Requests fulfilledwith grace and speed,a heart full of kindnesswillingly performingdeed after deed…'(excerpt from my book ‘Family and More – Enemies or Friends?’)

    Such stories are inspiring. Thank you!

    Helena Harperwww.helenaharper.com

    Reply
  17. Joelle

    I live on a small island in western Canada. We have had significant snow on the ground for nearly two weeks and more falling as I type. I know everyone thinks Canada and snow are synonymous, but there isn’t anyone here on the island that can remember snow like this in the last thirty years or more. It is normally a very moderate climate staying above freezing most of the winter with snow melting off after a day or two. We now have about two feet. Because we were not prepared for this as a community, pipes are freezing, well pumps go off when the power goes out, roads are blocked, supplies are limited. Everyone has joined together, passing messages, checking on neighbours, feeding each other meals, sharing water, chopping firewood for each other, giving rides in the few four wheel drives…it’s a beautiful thing. As someone new to the community (just over a year), we’ve known what a good choice we made for some time, but this is truly a blessed and joyful place. Thanks for your story!

    Reply
  18. Julie Weathers

    Janet Reid pointed this out and it was wonderful. What a touching story.

    Joylene, that was great also. Funny how some people preach the Word and some people live it.

    I’ve been kind of a recluse this year and haven’t done much besides work, but a story Janet shared about Marines helping a family have Christmas reminded me of one of ours many years ago.

    http://julie-weathers.blogspot.com/2008/12/santa-was-cowboy.html

    Just about when you’re completely ready to give up on people, you get a miracle.

    Merry Christmas to all.

    Julie

    Reply
  19. Steve Stubbs

    I have to say, this is well written. I rarely read anything that impresses me nowadays, but this is very, very well written. That fellow who said you can this is right, Toni. You can do this.

    So keep doing it. In a world of mediocrity we need great writers.

    Reply
  20. Laurel

    Thank you for your touching post. It was lovely. Here is one of my memories:

    Years ago my family was big and my budget was small, so I often shopped for bread at a day-old store. There was one cashier there who was unfailingly pleasant, helpful, and kind – especially to elderly customers. She couldn’t have made much money working at that store, but I never heard her complain.

    Anyway, one year a couple of weeks before Christmas, I was in the store when a young man came in. He had scruffy hair and wore what looked like second hand clothes and crummy shoes. He walked straight up to kind cashier and asked her name. When she responded, he handed her an envelope, smiled, and said “Merry Christmas.” Then he turned and walked out of the store. At the customers’ urging, she opened the envelope and pulled out a Christmas card. Four $100 bills fell out of it. The card was not signed.

    She ran outside to catch the young man before he drove away in his very old, beaten up VW bug. “Who are you?” she asked, but all he said was “It doesn’t matter.” He smiled again and drove away.

    It was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen. As far as I know, the cashier never found out where the money came from.

    Reply

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