Tuesday, November 24, 2020

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Stray Thoughts

There are many reasons for gratitude

11/23/2020

With all of the frustrations, the tragedies and the maddening political chaos that have been with us this year, I have the perfect recipe for our Thanksgiving celebrations.

No, it is not a new take on green bean casserole. It’s not some newfangled way to ease the strain on our belts after a holiday meal.

More than anything else, what our celebrations need this year is an extra helping of gratitude.

Yes, there are 2,200 empty seats at the dinner table in Iowa this Thanksgiving because of the terrible coronavirus death toll. Yes, there are tens of thousands of others who will be staying away from holiday gatherings because of the disease.

But no one has taken away our memories. No one is stopping us from savoring each and every memory this year. And those memories are more valuable than gold.

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Beyond the thoughts of family and friends, we all can draw strength from the examples set by the people around us.

Consider:

SMALL ACTS OF KINDNESS: Setting aside the antics of cats and dogs on people’s videos, social media usually is overflowing with hateful postings that only serve to infuriate and inflame. But last week I came across a posting that warmed my heart — and it should remind all of us of the too often forgotten spirit of looking after each other.

The posting was from Creston, and it dealt with a chance encounter outside the Fareway store there a few weeks before Christmas 10 years ago. An elderly man stepped aside to allow other shoppers to enter before him. A woman stopped next to him and they stood there for a few moments in front of the Christmas trees and holiday wreaths that were for sale.

“If you could get one, what would it be?” the woman asked.

“I’d get the wreath for my wife’s grave,” he replied, explaining that it would be their second Christmas apart.

The conversation ended, and the man proceeded into the store to do his shopping. Afterward, as he headed to his pickup truck with his groceries, a Fareway attendant was waiting there holding a large wreath.

“A customer purchased this for you,” the employee said. “She said for you to have a Merry Christmas.”

And he did — with the wreath decorating his wife’s grave and with him telling anyone who would listen what an incredible gift he had received from a total stranger.

But that random act of kindness was the very last gift Kenneth Nielsen received. The retired teacher and farmer, who was 74, died in a house fire near Blockton two days after Christmas in 2010.

But his family will never forget that wreath. His daughter retells the story each year in the hope of reminding everyone what a powerful message a small gift can convey.

“There are still angels in this world,” she wrote. “There are still selfless people that are giving and have not lost sight of a good deed. No one knows when it is their last day. So, in the holiday hustle and bustle just remember that one small act of kindness could be the last thing that a person ever experiences.”

BIG ACTS OF KINDNESS: Just as a holiday wreath in Iowa became a lasting symbol of giving and thinking of others, another woman with a big heart has made a lasting contribution during a time of need, only on a much larger scale.

Dolly Parton was in the news recently, not for her sequins and singing but for her generosity. The country music star donated $1 million to help underwrite the cost of developing one of the coronavirus vaccines that will soon be rolled out worldwide to help bring the disease under control.

In typical Dolly humility, she told the BBC, “I felt so proud to have been part of that little seed money that hopefully will grow into something great and help to heal this world. Lord knows we need it.”

The donation was not Dolly’s first venture into giving.

She grew up in poverty in the hills of eastern Tennessee, and her father never learned to read or write. For 25 years, she has given a book each month to hundreds of thousands of needy children so they can become proficient readers.

After wildfires ravaged parts of the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016, Dolly stepped up again. She provided $1,000 checks each month for six months to each of the families displaced by the fire. She gave all junior and senior high school students who lost their homes to the fires $4,500 college scholarships.

Whether it’s someone with a larger-than-life personality like Dolly, or someone who steps forward like the mystery shopper in Creston, everyone’s caring and compassion can provide a needed tonic for what ails us and our country these days. ♦

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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