On the morning of May 6th, my iPhone buzzed on the nightstand, awakening me. I fumbled for my reading glasses, sat up, and looked at the glowing screen.
Dad passed away in 2004 at the age of 83. I was with him the day he died, holding his hands. He was unconscious, but the hospice nurse said he could still hear me.
A couple of years before he died, I kissed my father goodbye. He said, ‘Son, you haven’t kissed me since you were a little boy.’ It went straight to my heart, and I kissed him whenever I saw him after that, and my sons and I always kiss whenever we meet.— Terry Wogan
I spoke softly in Dad’s ear, reminiscing about the past, family vacations, and how well everyone was doing. And then I said, “Dad if you’re tired, rest. Sleep. You’ve earned it. We’ll all be fine. We love you.”
Two hours later my father slipped away.
A tree is known by its fruit
My father was an administrative law judge, former United States Marine, bibliophile, intellectual, and an imposing figure. He stood six feet tall and weighed over 200 lbs.
Dad had a kind of magnetic presence and authority when he walked into a room. He could be driven and purposeful, but beneath all of this was a gentle and kind man.
Dad was always helping people, especially the elderly. There was the homeless man named Mr. Strollo, who was hit by a car. Dad witnessed the accident, brought Mr. Strollo home to recuperate, and helped with his legal representation.
Another time Dad rescued a stranded family whose car broke down on the freeway. He brought them home to dinner, found them lodging for the night, and took them to the garage the next day.
A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.— Saint Basil
This is the gift of good fathers because their children pay attention to actions more than words. Dad’s endless examples of love and kindness to strangers rubbed off on me. It’s partly why I became a police officer.
Do your little bit of good
Completely awake now and thinking about my father, it occurred to me that this May 6th would have been his 100th birthday. How I wish he was still with us.
Later in the morning, in my office, I held a framed picture of my Dad. I could see my smiling reflection in the glass of the photo as if I was a ghost happily greeting him. I took a photo of the picture and texted it to my sister (refer below).
My text read, “Dad’s 100th birthday today! Hard to believe. Hope you have a great day!” I like to leave my sister encouraging messages, and she does the same for me. Perhaps we’re emulating a little bit of the good that Dad taught us.
Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. — Desmond Tutu
My sister was at work and later tried to call me, but I had taken my wife to a doctor’s appointment and was unable to answer her call. My wife is recovering from breast cancer surgery, and I attend all her appointments with her.
After the doctor’s visit, my wife and I went to lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant. My wife’s recovery is going well and she celebrated with a pineapple margarita.
Behind us, the hostess seated two cheerful, middle-aged women. One of the women was carrying a brightly decorated gift bag with the words “Happy Birthday!” written on it.
The brightly decorated bag reminded me of a special little girl I saw years ago in a different restaurant, while away with friends on vacation.
Their echoes are truly endless
The restaurant was in a lovely setting along the California coast. My friends and I were staying in the area and decided to enjoy some fine dining together.
It was a higher-end restaurant, where the food and service were impeccable. Everyone at our table was laughing, enjoying the hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, and conversation.
I noticed a young family entering the dining room. A father, mother, and approximately ten-year-old girl in a pediatric wheelchair.
The little girl was wearing a beautiful dress with a frilly collar and brightly colored bows in her hair. She had big, expressive eyes.
The little girl was moving her arms and head somewhat uncontrollably, leading me to believe she might have Cerebral palsy. I tried not to stare, but what attracted my attention was not the girl’s movements, but the mother’s loving attention.
I continued enjoying dinner with my friends but couldn’t help but admire the way the young mother helped her daughter with her meal, her sippy cup, and discretely wiping her mouth.
Now and then, the mother would whisper something in her daughter’s ears, and the daughter would burst out laughing. So much so other diners would crane their necks to see what was going on.
Something about the whole scene moved me. It must be hard to take a special needs child into a fine dining restaurant and attend to her while trying to enjoy your dinner and drinks. Especially while people are staring.
I wished people would have stood up, said a toast of admiration for the mother and daughter, and then burst into applause. But then I got an idea. I slipped out a piece of notepaper and wrote the following note:
Please forgive my anonymous intrusion. You have a beautiful daughter, and the way the two of you interact reflects the kind of love all families should celebrate. Thank you for showing the rest of us what a remarkable mother looks like, and for inspiring me to be the best father I can be.
As my friends and I got ready to leave, I ordered an ice cream dessert and asked our server to deliver it to the beautiful family with the little girl. And I asked that the server include my note.
Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless. — Mother Teresa
I was outside the restaurant when the ice cream and note arrived for the family, but I caught the mother’s reaction. She opened the note, then put her hand up to her mouth. She looked around the restaurant and then handed the note to her husband.
I could tell she was crying, and her husband was smiling. Then the mother leaned over, kissed, and hugged her little girl.
Dad always told me that acts of kindness should expect no reward, but I admit I felt good inside. Like I found a way to shine a little grace in that family’s life.
You are making the world
Fast forward to the Mexican restaurant, and the women with the birthday bag. When we finished our meal, I quietly asked our server if I could pick up the bill for the women dining next to us. “Don’t tell them until after we’re gone,” I said. Our server smiled and obliged me.
As my wife and I got up to leave, I asked the dining women, “So whose birthday is it?” and one of them said, “It’s mine.”
“Well happy birthday!” I said. “Today would have been my father’s 100th birthday. He was a kind man. If he were here, he’d probably buy you lunch.”
The women laughed and said, “Well thank you.”
This time there was no outside window to see the reaction of the women when the server told them their meal was paid for, but that’s okay.
It was really a birthday gift for my father. To honor his legacy of kindness. To let him know his son learned well.
And if I’m honest, maybe it was a little gift to myself. Because this act of kindness, on my father’s 100th birthday, rekindled the memory of Dad. It was like I felt a bit of his spirit.
Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you might as well do it with generosity and kindness and style.— Rebecca Solnit
Sharing random acts of love and kindness with strangers fills your soul with peace. It brightens people’s lives. Gives them hope. It’s a great way to honor loved ones who taught you well and keep their memory burning bright in your soul.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss, an artist, writer, and photographer. To get my latest work, sign up for my free Saturday Newsletter here.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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Illustration by John P. Weiss