I have always been a very sensitive girl. I can remember being a small child and receiving a free lunches at school. My mother had recently divorced my father– she was then a 32 year old single mother of three girls with no college degree. She worked as a hostess at a fancy restaurant, and went to school at night, but we struggled– or I should say, she did. As a child, I was oblivious to our financial problems and had no idea we were receiving assistance due to our low income.
That all changed one day, when Adam Applebrook pointed out to me, and the rest of my 3rd grade class, that “only poor people get free lunches – why are you so poor, Lisa?!”
I stood there, not sure what to do next, my little mind vaguely recognized that I was being made fun of. Since I didn’t know that I was getting free lunches, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I sat there slightly confused. This is when my teacher, Mrs. Jennings, promptly came to the rescue.
Mrs. Jennings made the two hour drive every morning to my elementary school from inner city Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley. In the wake of the civil rights movement in the early 1970’s, LA Unified was experimenting with busing. They would bus suburban kids and teachers to the inner city and inner city kids and teachers into suburbia. That year, Mrs. Jennings was the first from downtown to come to our school. She knew poverty. She grew up and lived in the midst of hardship, and the children that she was used to teaching were underprivileged to say the least. Stepping into the opportunistic bubble of our rural town must have been shocking to her. So when she saw that I was under fire from Adam Applebrook, she swooped in like a mother owl.
She was not mean or unprofessional, she maintained a calm and powerful demeanor, and basically told Adam that I was the one who was special and kids that bought lunches were the creeps. Okay she didn’t say creeps, the truth is, I don’t remember her exact words, but I remember the way she made me FEEL. I felt exclusive, and in the midst of my tumultuous life, it felt wonderful.
I share this story with you because it was my first strong memory of being shown true kindness. Of course, I had the undying affection and love of my parents, but an outsider, and teacher whom I adored and respected had singled me out and made me feel so good, that 40 something years later, I still remember the event.
Mrs. Jennings may not know this, but her gesture that day shaped who I am today.
Her sensitive and kind nature were the cornerstone for who I became as person, but particularly with regard to kindness. All too often we can go about our day and get so busy that we forget to extend a hand to others in need. Sometimes the ones who are the most empty handed are not who you might expect. A small child, the elderly, a neighbor, or someone having a rough day. Kindness doesn’t always scream, sometimes it’s a small gesture. Kindness can be an encouraging word, a hand written letter, paying attention, or standing up for someone in a kind and peaceful way. We frequently overlook the power of altruism. Kindness is about how we make someone feel.
Although my mom wasn’t there that day, I have since told her of the story and she was equally grateful that the mother owl swooped in to protect her baby girl. My Mom, who went on to earn her PhD and make a wonderful life for herself, must have struggled so much in those days. So, Mrs. Jennings wasn’t just being kind to me, her act reached far beyond the classroom walls that day.
I wish I could thank Mrs. Jennings in person.
I don’t even know if she is still alive, but in all of my unsuccessful attempts to find her, I remind myself that I can thank her by paying it forward. You can pay it forward, too.
Don’t underestimate the power of kindness and the effect it has on people.
You never know, your small token of affection might change a little girl forever.
Maybe forty years from now a grown women will be brought to tears as she writes about this simple gracious expression.
Lisa McClellan blogs at Runwiki.org a place for a fitness enthusiasts to explore the spiritual heart of our sport. Runners come from all walks of life, some are slow, and some are fast, Runwiki touches the common thread that binds. Lisa is a 4 time Boston Marathon qualifier, 2013 Boston finisher, Ultra Marathoner, RRCA Certified Running Coach, Wife to retired US Navy Diver and Mom to three.
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