“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
― Desmond Tutu
I recognize the last post made many friends, family members, and readers feel incredibly sad for me. No child should have to go through that experience. I have been thinking a lot about that period of my childhood, and realize that there have been many wonderful memories… moments of pure love and light from people who didn’t even really know me.
I’d like to share a really special memory with you.
My 9th birthday was around the corner and my Mother asked me what I would like for a present. We didn’t have much money then and were jumping around between her friends’ apartments at the time. I didn’t really want any specific thing, I just wanted to have a birthday party… a clown, balloons, food, and a cake!
I didn’t get to spend much time with her because she worked nights and was usually sleeping during the day. It was a really big deal when she agreed that I could have a birthday party — it meant that we would get to spend more time together. My little heart felt so full that morning.
My Mother gave me a budget of $200 and said I would need to help with planning — I was all for it! Later that morning, I went right to work with a list of invitees. I basically invited everyone in our apartment building. I drew up handwritten invitations, picked the earliest Saturday (which was just 3-4 days away), and spent the entire afternoon sliding invites under everyone’s door. The party would start at 11am at the pool deck, food would be provided!
On the morning of my birthday, I found my Mother still sleeping in bed. She had had a long night… I had given her the list of all the items, prices, and places to go to buy everything for the party. I tried to wake her up, but she was so groggy and wasn’t really responding. I decided to walk over to the refrigerator to see if she had bought the cake last night, the food… and there wasn’t anything there.
My heart sank. I walked back over to my Mother and tried to shake her awake. She was tired. I understood and didn’t fault her, but all I could think about was how everyone would be downstairs in just a couple of hours. There wasn’t enough time to write another note to all those people, and I didn’t even know who I actually invited. I felt so stupid for not making a list of the invitees.
A couple of hours passed and my Mother was still asleep in bed. It was almost time for the birthday party. I peered outside the lanai and saw the figures of people downstairs on the pool deck. They had presents and some had a balloon. I could feel the tears forming in my eyes and the embarrassment on my face. I disappeared back into the apartment.
Not too long afterwards, someone was knocking on the door. It was one of my favorite neighbor couples. I wish I could still remember their names… They were a younger couple and would let me into their apartment to play with their computer. The husband taught me how to type on a keyboard, and the wife was always so sweet to me. I remember wishing they were my parents. Since I can’t remember their names, let’s just call them Mark and Sarah.
Mark and Sarah asked why I wasn’t at the party, and I told them that my Mother wasn’t feeling well. They must have seen my disappointment. Then Sarah said, “Well, maybe we can take you out to celebrate for dinner instead?” My heart felt so full of joy again. They both smiled and we agreed that I would get my Mother’s permission, and would meet at the lobby around 6pm. Mark also let me know that he would let everyone know that my Mother wasn’t feeling well. I appreciated that so much.
They took me to the old Hard Rock Honolulu across the street from the Convention Center by the entrance of Waikiki. I had never been there before, and felt so special to be there that evening. They treated me to anything on the menu. I ordered a steak with extra fries that night. I remember sitting next to Sarah, and drawing on the back of the kiddy menu. Gosh, that feeling… as I write this, I am literally tearing up remembering their incredible kindness.
Sarah asked about school, life, my home life. My grades were crap, but I liked having friends. I never got to see my Mother, and I spent most of my nights begging her not to leave for work. I cried a lot because I didn’t like being alone — Sarah knew about that part and that’s why they let me spend time with them.
Then Sarah did something so simple, but it has stayed with me throughout all these years. She picked a napkin out of the holder, and asked:
“Do you know what Roy G. Biv stands for?”
I shook my head. I had no clue. She smiled warmly at me, and started to pull out a crayon one-by-one. She pulled the red one and wrote the letter “R”, pulled the orange crayon, and wrote the letter “O,” yellow crayon for the letter “Y”, green crayon for the letter “G”, blue crayon for the letter “B”, purple crayon (she said it’s actually indigo) for “I”, and then the purple crayon again (she said it’s violet this time). I laughed at her and said, “the last two are the same thing!”
Then I remember Sarah saying, “Diana, I want you to remember this for me… Roy G. Biv stands for the colors of the rainbow and whenever you feel sad, I want you to think about this rainbow because it represents the beauty in life… the hope… and just like when it rains and the world seems like it’s crying, know that there will always be a rainbow afterwards… something beautiful, like you.”
To this day, I still think about this wonderful couple who opened their hearts to me. I still think about them when I see a rainbow, and have told my children the same thing about rainbows and how it represents hope. I wish there was someway that I could find them, to let them know how much it meant to celebrate my birthday with me.
Later that evening, Mark asked me if I could do something really important for him. He asked me to close my eyes and count to 30 without peeking. Sarah put her hands over mine just in case!
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10… all the way to 30… I don’t think I ever counted that slow in my life.
When I opened my eyes, I saw a huge banana split with a candle on it! Sarah held my hand, and they all started to sing “Happy Birthday” to me… I just couldn’t help but cry and smile. I wanted my life to freeze at that moment — to live right there in that happiness with Mark and Sarah.
My friends, Mark and Sarah, moved away a few months later. It was so hard to see them go. I have never forgotten how something so small and seemingly ordinary can have such a profound impact on a human life. I’m 30 years old now, with two children of my own… a husband who is incredibly patient and loving. And I like to think that I have done right by continuing to hold onto the beauty in life despite the pain. In all honesty, I’m grateful for the suffering I’ve endured because without it I wouldn’t ever have known how strong I truly am.
Life is not perfect. I don’t have “the” answer to solve homelessness, child abuse, substance abuse, and other crippling life events. But I hope that by sharing snippets of my life, it can somehow continue to help others. I am so grateful for the complete strangers and good hearted people who have helped preserve and grow my human spirit. I think at the end of the day, kindness can go a long way… it provides that hope that things can be better, and the ability to make it through another day.
Curious to know if any of you have had similar experiences of unexpected kindness. Please share. 🙂