A Story from Far Away
The holiday season is upon us, and I have a beautiful story to share with you. I told this story to a customer of mine, and, when I'd finished, she told me this in response:
"I was a manager of a business," the customer related, "and every Christmas I would leave a gift on each of the employees' desks around four o'clock in the morning. I never told them the gift was from me, but I noticed how each recipient would react to it with a sense of "wonder," which seemed to last through the following year. When I quit my job, I told the owner that I was the one who had left those gifts for everyone. I told him I had been doing that for the past ten years, and asked him to promise me that, as the owner of the business, he would continue the tradition after I left."
What could I say to this customer, except that she had obviously understood the story I had told her and that she had in effect recapitulated it in spirit in her own life. It still feels good to me to tell that story, and the fact that it spurred my customer to mention its connection to her own good deeds at Christmas makes me want to tell it to you now:
"A LONG TIME AGO before there were microscopes, it was not uncommon for a man to lose his whole family to a virus. Medical people only had suspicions about what could be causing those illnesses, and they used terms like "unfilterable substances" to describe what we now identify as viruses.
"A man who lived in Turkey many years ago experienced such illness at first hand, losing his entire family to it in one fell swoop. He walked the streets every day, thinking about nothing except how much he missed his family. In his heartbreak, he heard people around him arguing about money in front of their children. How were they going to pay the rent, or buy food? Feeling, in spite of his own sorrow, great compassion for the troubles of others, this Turkish man listened through each window, or cracked door, or hollow wall in the houses of his neighbors to try to determine whom they owed money to or which groceries they were lacking.
"With the information he garnered, this great man did what he could to help his neighbors. He never told anyone that he was the one who delivered the needed groceries, but simply left them at the door and sneaked away. For him, bereft of his family, it must have been a relief to feel needed and make his existence meaningful again. Later, he would walk by the same homes in the area and see how much happier his neighbors were. He also sensed the relief the children themselves must have felt. Yet, even when he paid his neighbors' bills, he did so in a manner that would not leave a trail leading to him. I tell you this, because the kind Turkish man kept up his charitable works for over ten years, and yet not a soul ever discovered who it was that mysteriously left the loving gifts.
"Life is filled with wonder, and one day it comes to an end. After the good Turk died, the whole town kept asking, "Where are the gifts?" "Who was doing this?" Finally, putting two and two together, they figured it out. I am proud to say that, in this case, humanity took care of one of its own. They dug up the old man's bones and built a small walkway to the museum where he now rests. By this Samaritan's example, they taught the children how a great man should act and encouraged them to do him the honor of visiting him in the museum. I can only imagine the anxiety felt by the townspeople in trying to live up to the greatness with which they had been confronted!"
A final word: Since the great man did his deeds, every succeeding generation has willingly retold his story with ever a bit more embellishment. But the imagination they display in doing so can never surpass or even compare to what one man did in helping others while not ever seeking a syllable of praise.