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IPFS News Link • Inspiration

The Power of Gratuitous Kindness

• McElroy

Every Christmas reminds me of an anonymous act of kindness that changed my life. I have no one to thank. I don't know if my good Samaritan was white or black, male or female. It was an act of pure compassion that did not seek even the reward of recognition. It is no exaggeration to say that I have 'paid forward' the stranger's kindness a hundred times in the intervening years. Yet I am still in debt. I was 16 years old. My family had been falling apart since the sudden death of my father years before. One of the reasons I am a strong advocate of family structure is because I experienced its warm security as a child and its devastating absence as a teenager. Almost overnight, my mother turned into a rage-filled, terrified woman whom I did not recognize. My older brother and only sibling simply disappeared; at least, that's how I remember it. He was old enough to drive and he began to live in a serial manner at the homes of various friends in preference to his own. Shortly, thereafter, he went to university. A steady, growing conflict with my mother erupted in violence over the holiday season. Without burdening the account with detail, I will simply say it became safer for me to sleep on the streets than in my own bed. Only, one of the problems with this solution was that I lived in Ottawa, Canada where temperatures in December and January average between 13 to 19 degrees Fahrenheit. The days were safer than the nights. The downtown public library was huge and open during the day; there was always a corner in a reading room or the stacks where I could disappear behind a book. I was able to wash up quickly in the women's restroom.