My friend Tyler is faithful Lutheran. He became my friend out of a Christian act of kindness in March 1991 and we have remained so despite the different paths our lives have taken. He is married to his sweetheart, Sarah. They have two daughters.
Tyler and I differ on a great many things, but we both believe in moderation, grace, and kindness. His grace toward me has been an especially great gift during my recent struggles with health, school, money, and so on.
Tyler happened to text me on a particularly stressful day a few weeks back. My unemployment had run out and there was a problem with my student loans at the university — one that could have prevented me from registering for student teaching and potentially derailed the long plan to finish my transition from journalist to teacher.
Tyler agreed that was stressful.
He offered to come by for a chat.
I asked if he was in Des Moines. He works here, but he lives in Ames.
No, he said. He was at home. But it’s not that far of a drive.
The time was late evening after dark. He was willing to drive 45 minutes to comfort his friend and, after a time, drive back. That’s 90 minutes on the road for an act of kindness.
As most longtime readers know, I suffer the affliction of depression and anxiety. Sometimes I see only shadows on sunny days. I feel trapped with no way out.
Then I am reminded of people like Tyler, whom God sends to me in the darkest moments and says, “You’ll be OK. You will survive.”
Tyler is a blessing of 31 years.
But he is not the only one.
There are always Parents 2.0, whose love is the kind of strong that you can lean your back against it and know it won’t fall no matter how hard the winds of change blow.
There is my friend Sara, who helped me reorganize all three of my closets to accommodate my bad knees. In the front closet alone, I can do something quite spectacular because of her work: Hang up my coat. She made two visits to my home and made my closets so organized that I am afraid to take something out for fear I will mess it up.
There’s my friend Don, a retired vice president from Drake University. Sometimes I call him just to hear the undiluted enthusiasm for living in his voice. We chatted for about 45 minutes one recent day. By the end of the talk, I felt like Lazarus. Don’s belief in people, their resilience, and their potential to do good is unwavering.
He helps me believe in me, and that is no small feat.
There is my friend Mimi, with whom I have dinner once a week. I often call her when I’m despondent. She offers that motherly shoulder for my burdens. I always feel lighter after a chat with Mimi. Most of the time, we talk about the state of the world, her three sons, or her late husband Steve, a mentor and friend to me and a loving husband to her.
Then there are the 199 people who made 248 donations, first to help pay for my knee surgery in August, and again to help me cover expenses now that unemployment has run out.
(You can still donate if you’re so inclined. Visit this link or any of the links below this column.)
I know some of the names: family, friends, readers, classmates, acquaintances, and so on.
But most of the names are strangers. Many are anonymous.
When I think about these acts of generosity, I tear up.
What have I done to deserve this kindness?
Lord knows, I’ve lived a flawed and sometimes foolhardy life. I don’t deserve this kindness.
But that kind of thinking disrespects the faith those people have placed in me.
They’re pushing me to keep moving forward, to finish school, and become the teacher I promised I would be.
What did I do to deserve their faith?
My job now is to live up to the promise that they see. I have work to do. I don’t wish to become a good teacher. I want to be a great one.
I want to take every experience I’ve endured since I lost my job at the local newspaper — unemployment, struggles with government benefits, financial instability, physical health challenges, poor insurance, and many more — and turn them into empathy for what students and their families face.
I will find a way to help students learn, be the light that Don is in my life, to go the extra mile the way Tyler does, be the ear they need like Mimi, or the helper that Sara is.
The message of this charity is not about what I deserve.
These are the examples of the kind of person I want to be in my new career and in the next part of my life.
That makes it a little easier to swing my swollen legs over the side of the bed, rub them down with lidocaine, pull on compression socks and strap on two knee braces before I take a first step in the morning.
Because I need to keep moving forward, not just for me, but for all those who’ve put their faith in me.
I promise all of you: I am humbled. I am honored.
And, most of all, I am motivated.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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