Category Archives: kindness

Writing about that scene from ‘This is Us’ reconnected me with the real-life mailman who made a difference

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Receiving a letter from our former mailman made by day.

When I wrote a blog post about how the scene with the mailman on “This is Us” touched me, it was personal. I wrote about how my late mom and her mailman, Glenn, became friends, and how he mourned her death along with us. That scene brought it all back.

My dad, who had Glenn’s address because they still exchange Christmas cards 14 years later, wanted to share the post with him. While it – amazingly to me – was being shared thousands of times on Facebook by fans of the show – my dad went the more traditional route.  He printed out a copy of the post I wrote, put it in envelope, and mailed it to Glenn. Which seemed appropriate, of course.

My dad got a letter back a few days later. You know, one of those-handwritten things on lined paper that mailman deliver. My dad sent me the letter, which brought more tears, as Glenn recalled the conversations he and my mom had over the years.

“I believe I learned more about compassion, integrity, politics, and strength of character through adversity than I gave,” his letter said.

Glenn said he watches This is Us and had seen the episode with the mailman. It turns out someone he knows in North Carolina had seen the story I wrote on the Huffington Post, realized it was about him, and forwarded it to him the day before he received my dad’s letter. Of all the people who read that post, knowing that Glenn had seen it meant the most to me. It had never occurred to me that he would.

He remembered with fondness the people he met during his career as a mail carrier.

“I will always cherish my years on my route, with untold memories of the wonderful people who lived there,” he wrote.

Many of those people are my lifelong friends who grew up in the same neighborhood. Several of them commented on Facebook that they remembered Glenn too and recalled kind interactions he’d had with their families.

“I too, had Glenn as my mailman, and FRIEND for years,” one of my good friends commented. “It’s amazing what a difference a seemingly insignificant or random person can make in our lives! He became like family to our family, during a difficult time of life as well.”

Another remembered him making up the difference when a letter arrived with postage due.

I guess it’s not as uncommon for mail carriers to get to know their customers as I thought. Bill Chott, the actor who played the mailman, also quickly learned how much the tender scene meant to people. He was flooded with Facebook and blog messages from people who loved his portrayal, some of whom shared stories about their mail carriers. The Postal Service even interviewed him for a story.

But still, Glenn is special. Though injuries he sustained during years of delivering mail in the rough Alaska weather forced his retirement and move to a warmer climate, he still connected with people. He helped run a food bank, raising as many as 1,000 pounds of organic vegetables per year to feed the hungry. He volunteered at a prison and with a hospice. None of this surprises me.

It’s a gift to have the opportunity to let people know they mattered to you. Now that I had his last name, I wanted to reach out to Glenn personally, tell him why I wrote the post and how he had touched not only our lives, but many others. I thought about looking him up on Facebook or trying to find an email address.

But first, I mailed him a letter.

Read the post that started all this.

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Why the mailman on ‘This is Us’ brought me to tears

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I’m sure a lot of people cried through the last few episodes of “This is Us.” (Don’t read any further if you’re not caught up.)

Like millions of us, I’m obsessed with this show, although it destroys me week after week. I was still recovering from the beautifully painful goodbye between William and Randall two weeks ago, and then last night was a whole new torture. Watching the family grieve evoked such familiar emotions and memories and brought fresh pain from long-ago losses right to the surface.

But the part that hit me the hardest wasn’t Kate breaking down, or watching Randall and his mom talk about how much time he lost with William, or even seeing the cracks in Jack and Rebecca’s marriage knowing more tragedy is ahead.

It was the mailman.

In a brief but poignant scene, a mailman – played with such tenderness by  Bill Chott – stopped in to deliver a package and asked Randall how William was doing because he hadn’t seen him and was worried. He teared up when he heard the news that William he had died. Randall didn’t realize the two had gotten to know each other, but learned they had met during William’s morning walks.

“People don’t stop just to talk anymore, you know,” the mailman said. “We became friends. He always asked about my daughter.”

I sobbed, alone on my couch, because my mom had a mailman like that. She was often home alone in the afternoons, sitting in her wheelchair watching life through the windows that lined the living room.

On one of my visits home, my mom started telling me about her friend, Glen, who had confided some secrets to her. Who’s that? I asked.

“You know Glenn,” she said. “Our mailman. We’re friends.”

He had been delivering mail in our Anchorage neighborhood for years. Everyone knew him. He’d wave and smile when he walked up to the drop letters in the box next to the front door. Turns out one day, he popped in to say hi to my mom, and they struck up a friendship. From then on, he’d just let himself into the house and deliver the mail directly to her. He must have been in a hurry to finish his route, but you’d never have known it. He stopped just to talk to her. They became friends.

Whenever I came to town, he knew everything that was going on with me, and what I’d been working on. He always asked about her daughters and son. He shared details of his life with her too. It made her happy when a card from me arrived, Glenn told me. He recognized my handwriting.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, Glenn’s visits lasted longer. He noticed when she wasn’t home, worried when he hadn’t seen her.

She died on a Sunday. I saw Glenn coming up to the house on Monday and went outside to tell him the news. But he already knew. He said he had been to the hospital the day before but arrived just after she’d left us. He hugged me tightly, and told me through tears he wished he could have seen her once more.

I don’t know my postal carrier’s name. He or she stretches an arm from the mail truck to slide bills and ads and the occasional letter into the slot on our locked box on the street. My dad still gets Christmas cards from Glenn, sent from his new home in a warmer southern climate, where he moved with his husband.

But I have no idea who delivers them.

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First crushes and being crushed

1 A girl has a bigtime crush on my 9-year-old son. She is cute, smart, and funny, with a bit of attitude and a bold streak. She has not been subtle about her feelings for him.

She has recited a poem to him, rushes to sit with him on the bus, and talks to their classmates about how cute my boy is. Other times she chases him around the playground and they pretend to hate each other, because, well, they’re third-graders.

I admire her confidence and find the whole thing pretty adorable. I’ve known this girl for a couple of years and her mom for much longer. I like this girl. My son likes her. But he is not ready for this talk about “liking” someone.

“We are in elementary school!” he says emphatically when the subject comes up. “El-e-men-tar-y school.”

I agree with him. I’m glad he can be friends with girls and boys, and I told him no matter how he feels, to always be nice to her. (“Obviously, Mom!”) I don’t want her feelings hurt. Kids aren’t always kind, and boys don’t always express their emotions in the best way. I think my son has a good handle on the situation, and I predict they’ll be friends for a long time.

But I remember how those crushes go. Don’t we all? Even as adults who have survived actual heartbreak and real relationships, we remember those childhood hurts.

The boy I was in love with when I was 9 presented me with a palm branch at church on Palm Sunday and asked me to marry him. I was over the moon. I kept that branch, that token of his undying devotion, until it was brittle and brown. We flirted off and on for a few years, but as childhood romances go, nothing else ever happened and I was crushed when his crush subsided.

(I’m happy to report that we are still friends all these years later and he is happily married to his husband.)

I remember those feelings that you don’t really understand but that you can’t avoid when you’re just a kid. Palm branch boy broke my heart for a minute, and I did the same thing to another boy.

He was a bit of a nerd, super smart with curly hair and rosy cheeks. He always wore turtlenecks and his favorite thing to do was study ancient Egypt. He was intelligent, nice, and made no secret of how much he liked me.

He wrote me notes and complimented me. One year he drew my name for a class holiday gift exchange and I remember him literally squealing with delight. He gave me a perfume and powder set. The powder came in a bright green plastic apple and the perfume in a bottle shaped like a turtle. It was a much nicer present than kids usually exchanged.

Our school took an annual trip to the roller rink, which was a highlight of the year. And there was always the “snowball dance,” when they would dim the lights, turn on the disco ball, and skaters would make their way around the rink holding hands. (I know this would never happen in elementary school today, but it was the ‘70s.)

The boy approached me in front of all my friends and asked me to skate with him. I was interested in this hand-holding idea, but I wasn’t so sure about doing it with him.

I said no.

He looked grief-stricken. It took him a lot of guts to come up and ask me, and I rejected him. My friends giggled as he walked away. I have felt bad about it for decades.

After that, we didn’t talk much, and the next year we went to separate schools. I saw him again when I was a senior in high school when we shared a class together. I said hi, but neither of us initiated any more conversation. I feel bad about that too. It seems like it was up to me.

Who knows if he even remembers me or this slight that haunts me. I have Googled him a few times – he has a distinctive name, so I thought he’d be easy to find somewhere. But I have never located him. I don’t know what became of him and his life, but I imagine he’s successful, and I hope he’s happy.

I’d like to tell him thanks for asking me to skate. Thank you for the gift and the notes. Thanks for thinking I was special. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.

But you know, we were in elementary school.

(Do you have a story about a childhood crush? I’d love to hear it in the comments. And if you liked this post, feel free to share it.)

 

 

New Year’s Realizations

My New Year’s resolutions are always the same: get in shape, be smarter financially, be more organized. Drink less wine and eat more kale, yada yada yada.

I still want to do all those things, but I’m taking a different approach to 2016. Last year brought a lot of big changes in my life, and I’ve had some time to think about what really makes me happy, what fuels me. Some of it has surprised me, and it’s exciting for me to discover that I am still learning and growing.

As I was thinking about the New Year and the many facets that can lead to happiness, the “4 Cs” kept popping into my head. My summer job during college was working at a jewelry store, where I learned a little about the 4Cs of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, and carat.

So here are my 4C realizations (not resolutions) for 2016:

I need to create. Whether it’s a few words on this blog, working on the novel I really will finish writing,  a professional project that fulfills my creative side or a cool experiment with my son, using my imagination inspires me. I will devote more time to it this year. (But don’t expect anything too crafty.)

I need to contribute. Whether volunteering at school, collecting pennies for uncompensated children’s hospital care, sending toys to Syrian refugees or buying groceries for someone who has less than me, these small gifts mean more to me than the recipient and teach my son compassion. Giving back rewards me, and being part of something bigger than myself grounds me. I will find new ways for my family to give this year.

I need to crack up. I love laughing out loud. My friends are hilarious. My family makes me giggle. I need more of those laughing to tears, side-aching, sore cheek moments in between the rushing, the working, the worrying.

I need to connect. I value my longtime friendships with my most trusted friends, and I’m grateful for growing connections with fellow moms. I need to make time for coffee dates and happy hours and family gatherings and date nights with my husby. Having people in your life you can truly count on, who you can fully support, makes all the difference.

I know that when I’m pursuing these core beliefs, other good stuff follows. I’m even craving spinach right now instead of chocolate. At least that’s what my creative self is trying to tell me.

What are your New Year’s Realizations?

Moments of kindness that moved me

You know those moments- like  when someone cuts you off in traffic or a stranger makes a condescending comment -that instantly change your mood?

My husband saw a woman throw a conniption at the pizza place over the amount of cheese on her extra cheese pizza. The other day, a woman berated my sweet barista because she couldn’t charge just 1 cent on her loyalty card so the customer could earn a star toward a free drink.

Now, when you’re nice to your barista, you get surprises like this:

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In a world so often uncertain, filled with hatred and violence and sadness, small interactions have a profound effect on our moods. We never know what a stranger is dealing with, and no one knows what you might be going through. How lovely to encounter and share kindness.

Here are a few small moments this year that turned my day around, made me smile, and restored my faith in humanity.

The soccer-playing cabbie

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I was rushing to the airport to reach one of my best friends whose mother had just died. I was scrambling to cover all the responsibilities and activities in my absence. One friend was picking my son up for soccer practice while I was waiting for a cab to the airport. The cab driver arrived first and had to wait for a few minutes. Instead of starting the meter, he got out of the cab and played soccer in the street with my son. Instantly eased my stress and made our goodbye much easier. I wish I had gotten his name.

The forgiving parking attendant

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When I picked my dad up from the airport, I paid for the parking and walked a short distance to the car. I have a system for keeping track of those parking tickets, but this day, the system broke down. Somehow between paying my $3 at the self-pay machine and reaching the car, the ticket had disappeared. I dug through every nook and cranny in my purse, retraced my steps, and resigned myself that the parking was going to cost an arm and a leg. The cashier took pity on me and let me leave without paying. Bless her.

The conscientious key-finder

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After my brother got home from a Thanksgiving trip, he couldn’t find his keys. Searched everywhere and called people in two states trying to track them down until a friend saw a post on Facebook. Turns out someone found the keys near the truck where it had been parked. Not only didn’t he steal the truck, he made efforts to find the owner. Good for him.

The nurse with the big heart

Just be kind

I was at the doctor recently, and the kindest nurse checked me in. She was wearing hot pink scrubs and a bright smile. As she prepared to check my blood pressure (after asking in a gentle voice if was ok for her to do so) she put a stethoscope shaped like a heart on my arm. I commented on her warm demeanor and told her I could tell she was a caring person.

“There’s so much going on in the world, people are on edge,” she said. “It’s important to spread kindness.”

Amen.