Back in 1998, America’s Greatest Living Writer, Peggy Noonan, sensing a Bad Thing coming, wrote a column called “There Is No Time. There Will Be Time“. Two decades later, it stands up pretty well as a glimpse at life in the late 20th century. Near the end, she related a story:
“I once talked to a man who had a friend who had done something that took his breath away. She was single, middle-aged and middle class, and wanted to find a child to love. She searched the orphanages of South America and took the child who was in the most trouble, sick and emotionally unwell. She took the little girl home and loved her hard, and in time the little girl grew and became strong, became, in fact, the kind of person who could and did help others. Twelve years later, at the girl’s high-school graduation, she won the award for best all-round student. She played the piano for the recessional. Now she’s at college.
The man’s eyes grew moist. He had just been to the graduation. “These are the things that stay God’s hand,” he told me. I didn’t know what that meant. He explained: these are the things that keep God from letting us kill us all.
So be good. Do good. Stay His hand. And pray.”
–Peggy Noonan, “There Is No Time, There Will Be Time”, Forbes ASAP, November 30, 1998
“These are the things that stay God’s hand”….
I’m kind of a pessimist by nature. Every now and then I need to remind myself of the good stuff that’s out there. The good people out there. And every now and then the reminder kind of rears up and makes itself sort of unmistakable.
Then there are the rare occasions when I get three or four reminders in a row that just line themselves up like incoming flights at ORD. As St. John Paul II used to say:
Over the summer, and again at the World Series, you may have seen the story of Hailey Dawson, a 7-year-old Henderson, NV girl who was born with a partially-developed right arm, and who now wears a custom 3-D printed prosthetic hand. She has a goal of throwing out the first pitch at all 30 MLB parks.
Her mom relates the excitement of the members of the engineering department at UNLV when they met with her to discuss designing a prosthetic:
“Normally when I walk into a situation like this, I was selling them on why they should do this for my daughter,” she said. “Two of the professors emailed me and asked me to come in, and when we met, they sold me. They were trying to sell me on picking them.”
I love the tenacity and audacity of the mom who contacted everyone she could think of to make something that would let her daughter do all the things every other 7-year old does. And I love how the teachers and students at UNLV were all in:
“We had been working with robotics with eight years. We had coached robotic teams. We had been working with 3-D printers for about 10 years, so it caught my interest just because it was a combination of robotics and 3-D printing and a cool story,” O’Toole said. “A little girl needed a hand because she wanted to play baseball and ride a bike.”
Anthony Rizzo is a cancer survivor, and a World Series Champion, and a philanthropist. That’s a good combination. MLB recognized him with its Roberto Clemente Award this year. And what happened next is so Rizzo:
You know the Clemente story. Or maybe you don’t. All I know is it’s the first headline I ever remember seeing in the Chicago Tribune, January 2, 1973. Rizzo’s gesture is perfect. Only someone who is genuinely paying attention could be that smooth. There’s enough horrible human beings in the world. We could use more Rizzos.
Of course, Anthony Rizzo is wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. The goodwill accruing to the engineering department at UNLV from the “Hailey’s Hand” story is priceless. It’s easy for them to give. But what about Joe Six-Pack? He can’t make a difference with the extra five bucks in his pocket after buying pizza on the way home from his kids’ basketball practice, and filling the gas tank, and buying a bottle of wine for his wife after a long work week… right?
My youngest son has discovered an old jacket of mine, an IU award-style coat with leather sleeves and “INDIANA” on a nameplate on the back. It’s ancient, but he thinks its cool and wants to wear it, so we took it to a cleaner in town. When we went to pick it up, I noticed a small, unassuming sign in the window:
It’s got like 125 “likes” and 700-some shares. Not because my post is all that brilliant, but because people want to do good things. And they want to nod their chin at others who do good too. And there’s something to that. We just had the conversation in class this morning that in 2017, the whole world is “every man for himself, I got mine, I give zero Fs”. Everybody can see the meanness in the world. A gesture like that from a mom-and-pop business in a little Indiana town confirms our best hopes for the world.
A small thing. But a big thing.
So…. so what. What can you do with that? How can I bring a little light to my little corner of the world? Here’s how:
“She didn’t give up on me because I was “too far behind” or because “it was too late”. She changed the course of my life. I graduated college summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics. I received a full graduate fellowship to Wake Forest University in mathematics. I was able to choose the mathematics path because ONE teacher cared.
She is why I became a teacher. She will forever be my inspiration. I may not ever be as gifted of a teacher as she is. However, I can care as much for my students as she cared for me. Hopefully, I can improve someone’s life as she improved mine.”
-Julie Reulbach, “Change Someone’s Math… Care”, I Speak Math blog, July 7, 2010
Caring costs literally nothing. And yeah, I know we’re supposed to be doing that all the time. And we’re trying. But: It’s November, and I guarantee you the teachers I know are tired. Already. As a colleague told me one year around this time, “I’m just hoping to make it to Thanksgiving”. All it takes sometimes is a little reminder, or four, and it’s like an Underdog Super Energy Pill.