Tag Archives: community

A Thanksgiving Story

This story is not about politics or religion. In the end, it is a story about remembering that we are connected despite our tunnel-vision anxieties about how divided we have become as people. Kindness is a virtue that does not belong to any faction or faith. It is a true story about a small thing.

It all started in May of this year when we visited Mesa Verde National Park. This is the story of the Unfortunate Incident at Mesa Verde.

At the Park Point Overlook in Mesa Verde, a short, paved trail leads up from the parking area to several high viewpoints. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon when we stopped there in May, and the vistas from the top of the mesa were spectacular. And it was very windy up there, too.

That morning, we had gone on a ranger-led tour of Long House, one of the many ancient cliff-dwellings at the park, and I wore my hearing aids so that I would be able to hear our guide better. I was still wearing them later, when we visited the Park Point Overlook. As I took in the view, I was hit with a strong gust of wind, and I felt one of the hearing aids loosen in my ear. I checked them both to be sure that they were firmly in place.

Several hours later, as we walked to a restaurant in Durango, I felt the hearing aid in my right ear come loose again, and when I reached up to check them again, I discovered that there was no hearing aid in my left ear!

We retraced our steps, searching the sidewalk for the missing hearing aid. Back at the hotel, we searched the room and the car—but the hearing aid was gone. I realized then that it must have blown from my ear at Park Point Overlook.

I considered whether to drive back to the park to search, but I decided that it would be hopeless. I had no idea where I had lost the hearing aid. I could not even be sure that the wind had blown it from my ear somewhere at the Park Point Overlook. I blamed myself. Why had I not removed my hearing aids after the Long House tour? I did not need them for sight-seeing. Sometimes it seemed they were more trouble than they were worth.

After a fretful night, I concluded that I could be careless anywhere. I could as easily lose a hearing aid in my own neighborhood as I might on a road trip. It was one of the hazards of having the damned things. They are tiny and light, and if they are fitted well, you are not aware of them in your ears. The lesson was that if you are going to be walking around in a stiff wind, remove the little buggers and put them away in their case.

We were only about halfway through our Wild West Road Trip, and I was not going to let the hearing aid mishap spoil the rest of the journey. We would go on to enjoy being on the road together in the remarkable American west.

In August, two months after our return from the road, I decided it might be time to do something about replacing the missing device. I stopped by my friendly Costco Hearing Aid Center, where they told me that the hearing aid could be replaced but that I should considering buying a new pair because they were “so old” (I had had them for less than three years). Maybe it was time to upgrade to the latest technology. I decided to think about it.

I let three more months pass, and in November, I was about ready to buy two new hearing aids. Yet, when a last wild notion surfaced in my brain, I sent an email to Mesa Verde National Park on the off chance that a hearing aid had been turned in to their lost and found.

Two days later, I got an email response from Ranger Dave (last name omitted for reasons of privacy), who said that he remembered that a hearing aid had been turned in around the end of May, but unfortunately, the park only keeps unclaimed items for three months. All the items that they had received in May had been given to the Methodist Thrift Shop in October. He gave me their telephone number.

I called the thrift shop. The person I spoke with did not know about any hearing aid being donated. They did not have it. I explained to her that the Mesa Verde ranger remembered a hearing aid among the items turned over to the thrift shop. She promised to ask the manager and staff about it. I thanked her, but I knew that I was near the end of the trail and that what I had concluded in May was most likely true: the Mesa Verde wind had carried my hearing aid to its destiny, never to be found.

But a week later, I received an email from Kelly (last name omitted for reasons of privacy), the manager of the Methodist Thrift Shop in Cortez, Colorado. She said that she had my hearing aid and wanted to return it to me! She confirmed that it matched the description I had given to Ranger Dave.

Two days before Thanksgiving, a well-wrapped package from Cortez arrived for me. In it was the hearing aid, not noticeably much worse for wear and working just fine after I installed a new battery.

What were the odds? When the tiny bit of gray plastic flew from my ear, it had to have landed where a sharp-eyed park visitor could see it. That visitor had to look to the ground at just the right moment. He or she had to be willing to stop and pick it up, had to realize what it was, and had to take the trouble to turn it in to the Park Service. Ranger Dave had to remember, five months later, that a hearing aid had indeed been placed in the park’s lost and found in May. Kelly had to remember that a hearing aid was received at the thrift shop in October. The person who answered the phone when I called—and who did not think that the thrift shop had any hearing aid—had to bother to ask Kelly about it. Kelly had to have held onto it and had to imagine that, for someone, it was not just a worthless bit of plastic. And finally, she had to identify it as my missing hearing aid and to pack it so carefully to return it to me.

It is an astonishing series of kindnesses by a team of total strangers who did not know they were a team. This Thanksgiving, I am feeling grateful for these people, thankful that each of them was willing to do “the right thing” without knowing who they were doing it for and without knowing that it would make any difference to anyone. This Thanksgiving, I am appreciating the kindness of strangers, and even though I don’t believe in miracles, this amazing little story comes close.

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Some other stuff for later,

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The Tragedy of Brian

Alas, poor Williams! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
bored me with the eventide news a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that spoke the truth I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar?
(with apologies to W. Shakespeare)

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was “suspended” by the network last week for misleading the public about his personal experiences covering the war in Iraq. He had reported recently that he had been a passenger in a Chinook helicopter that was hit by RPG fire. He has since explained that he wasn’t in the helicopter that got hit, but instead in a helicopter flying behind the one that got shot at. It has also been reported, however, that Williams was not in any helicopter that was part of the formation that was fired on.

In his apology, broadcast before the suspension, Williams confessed that he “made a mistake in remembering” the event, and tried to soft-pedal his error by noting that the event happened 12 years ago and by saying that the report was “an effort to honor and thank a veteran” who protected him. Whether Williams was lying about what happened, exaggerating his personal experience in the event, or having an episode of mistaken memory, Williams probably could have come up with a better way to honor and thank a veteran than to inject a story about himself as the damsel in distress.

In many ways, the tragedy of Brian is a classic tale of hubris leading to a mighty fall. As a news anchor, Williams was marketed to the public as a trusted voice in the news business. No more. It is unlikely that he will ever be able to restore his reputation.

The incident prompted David Brooks to write a column that was not so much about the person who commits the error, mistake, exaggeration or deceit as about the public response to scandal. In this era of amplified outrage made possible by the Internet, any public person who commits these sins is susceptible to immediate ridicule that is often way out of proportion to the offense. In Brooks’ words, “The Internet, the most impersonal of mediums, erupts with contempt and mockery.” Brooks calls ours a barbaric “coliseum culture” that has no mercy when it comes to the disclosure of human failings in public figures. Brooks suggests that “the civic fabric would be stronger if, instead of trying to sever relationships with those who have done wrong, we tried to repair them, if we tried forgiveness instead of exiling.”

Forgiveness is a process. Brooks identifies four phases of forgiveness: mercy, judgment, penitence and reconciliation. Little mercy has been shown for Brian Williams by the public community, and yet, a current of judgment and penitence must flow and carve its course before a forgiving community can achieve reconciliation with him–a restoration of trust. Williams has yet to get out in front of the process, to re-evaluate, to set a course for his future that may bring him back from exile. If Williams wants to continue to work as a reporter, then he should be a reporter and resist the blinding spotlight of news anchor, even if it is offered to him by the network when his six-month suspension comes to an end. For the rest of us, we have become a community that is too quick to condemn without mercy, a community where forgiveness has become a strange and uncool concept. Being quick to condemn human failings in others, we have become blind to our own failings as a community–failings that may only be righted by each one of us deciding to step away from resentment and anger and toward healing the social fabric instead of tearing it apart.

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Some other stuff for later,

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