Discover Challenge: HOPE GONE VIRAL

This week’s Discover Challenge, from WordPress’s Daily Post editors:

“…[T]ake a moment to speak out about an act of kindness that you’ve come across recently. As the year comes to a close, find that glowing ember of hope that makes you excited for 2017.”

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I love this week’s challenge. I think it’s not only timely, but important – more this year than most. I can’t remember a year that has been as full of distressing, disturbing, disheartening, and even downright terrifying things as 2016. I’ve maybe had worse personal years than 2016 – but this year seriously tops the list for me in its number of sad/negative occurrences that have taken place on a trajectory that is not my own personal one. It’s hard to know what to do with that.

But small acts of kindness can make a difference – a really big one!

This has been driven home to me multiple times this year through my personal experience of moving this summer. Our initial impression – that this place (greater-Richmond, VA) felt welcoming and warm in a way that was disarming – has only grown in the five months that we (me, my ex, and our two kids) have been here. Kindness seems to be everywhere here, coming at us from all sides! From elementary school personnel, to people you pass on the sidewalk, to doctors & vets & etc, to grocery store cashiers, and on and on – people are just nice here.

We can’t quite figure out why!! What makes this place so different from any that we (either my ex or me, both singly and together) have ever lived in before? It’s an ongoing, increasingly fascinating question!

It’s true that much of our impression has been framed by our experiences with an absolutely amazing public elementary school – but it’s not only the school.

For example, there’s the pack & mail place in the shopping plaza across from our apartment complex:

I end up walking past that shop most days on the way back and forth to picking up my kids from school (I usually cut through the plaza) – and so I noticed right away when, around Thanksgiving, a red mailbox appeared on the sidewalk outside its door. It was labeled, “Letters to Santa.”

My seven-year-old daughter noticed, too. She is still very much a believer – and so this was a VERY. BIG. DEAL. A mailbox that sent letters direct to Santa? They must have his actual address! And we walked past it every day, so we could easily put letters in! How lucky was that?!!!!

I and her dad were slightly less enthused. We figured it was likely a means of the shop sending people coupons or something to drive holiday business – maybe attached to some form letter “from Santa.”

But my daughter was not to be deterred from her mission to put a letter in that box – so I let her do it. She talked her 10-year-old brother into writing one too (and though he’s not a believer anymore, he good-naturedly went along with it, writing out a detailed list – with some winks to me and his dad.) It was a big moment for her when she dropped her letter in.

Well, a week or so later, a response came – two responses, actually, one for my daughter and one for my son. Return address: 1 Reindeer Lane, North Pole.

I thought her eyes were going to bug out of her head when she saw that envelope. She was literally jumping up and down in excitement. Her dad and I were sending cringing looks to each other over her head, hoping that the form letter + coupon thing we were sure was inside would be acceptable. (She’s still a believer, but she’s starting to have some doubts. This was not the way we wanted her bubble to burst!)

It turns out that we should have had more faith.

This is what was inside (and not a coupon to be seen!):

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Yes, it was hand-written! And the stationery was what you see; it looked completely personal.

In case the photo is hard to read, here’s what it said:

“Dear Mae,

Merry Christmas from the North Pole! Thank you for sending your nice letter. I see that you are on my nice list. I’m so proud of you! I believe I have an extra special gift for you in my bag. I see you have a stuffed animal named Leamy. [note: in her letter, she told Santa that she would be happy with anything he brought here, but that she really wanted to ask for some clothes for her stuffed lemur, Leamy, because he was tired of being cold.] Perhaps something for Leamy is in order.

Christmas will be here soon. Remember to be good and go to bed early on Christmas Eve. And don’t forget to leave out some cookies, and perhaps a carrot for my reindeer.

With love,

Santa Claus.”

How sweet is that??!! Her brother’s was also handwritten and equally individualized.

Her dad went in to the shop to mail something afterwards and found out that it was the owner of the shop who decided to do the Santa letters – just because he thought it’d be fun and the kids would like it.

At the risk of being corny, the generosity of that really got me feeling “the meaning of Christmas” in a way I haven’t probably since I was a kid! It actually felt kind of healing. It’s impossible to feel completely bad about the state of the world or the heartlessness of people when you have people like this doing things like this for no ulterior motive beyond making people feel good.

That’s something I want to be a part of as much as I can in 2017.

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