You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.John Bunyan
Years ago, I was sitting at my desk on Christmas day. In all likelihood, I was probably trying to come up with a new idea for my blog. It was a cold day. Cloudy outside, and a bit sad in the house. It would be our first Christmas without our son, who was away in China. Although my greatest source of happiness is the knowledge that none of my kids need me anymore, one does tend to become sentimental when special holidays come about, and life makes it impossible for the family unit to be together.
The phone rang. This was back in the days when caller ID was a popular new feature, when we had no cell phones. It feels like a century ago. I did not recognize the number that I saw on the screen. Something told me to take the call anyway.
“Merry Christmas!” I don’t recognize the voice.
Merry Christmas to you.
An awkward silence followed, as both parties to this conversation realize that they may not know the person that they are speaking to.
Who am I speaking to?
I know several Bruces; I do not think any of them would be calling me at Christmas.
“Tell you what, man. I must have dialed the wrong number. But that’s OK. Merry Christmas to you anyway.”
I am touched.
Thank you. I wish you the same.
We hang up.
I felt no ill humor because I was interrupted. No hint of embarrassment in his voice. A positive interchange all the way around, and it started with a mistake.
A feeling of peace and calm came over me. A powerful, indescribable certainty that our son will be OK. I had just been reminded of the mysterious joy that we experience when a chance encounter turns out to be a source of comfort. When I walk into the next room at the museum and I see a painting that talks to me, even though I have never seen it before. When the cello soloist at the symphony finds a new way to interpret a piece of music that I have heard a hundred times before. When my employees, the angels at my office, found a way to seamlessly remember to do something that I had forgotten to accomplish. Something of vital importance.
A feeling that life is important. That every call, every turn, every contact with another human being carries within it the potential for beauty and unspeakable joy. Even a wrong number.
Thanks, Bruce, for making my day. You gave me the best present I have had all year. You did not have to say anything. You could have pushed the “off” button.
It has been a few years since I received this call. We have moved twice in the interim. There have been new grandchildren, and a change in jobs (twice). Somehow life goes on.
Our son now lives in Vietnam. In Haiphong. The same city that we used to bomb fifty years ago. We destroyed their harbor, which was vital to the country’s economy. We bombed railroads, power plants, refineries, even schools and hospitals. Anything that was essential for their well-being.
Our son teaches English to young Vietnamese people. Boys; girls; young professionals who are eager to get ahead. They worship him. The devastating war is but a chapter in their history textbooks.
We have visited him twice. We are welcomed as if we were royalty. He is married to a brilliant, accomplished, hard-working Vietnamese woman who adores him. They have a young boy: of course, the brightest, most energetic, handsomest child there ever was. He draws a crowd anywhere that they take him.
One of the few benefits of old age: you develop perspective. War and destruction when I was young. Love and a new beginning now; thankfully in time for me to be able to enjoy it.
There is hope yet. I wish that everyone in this world could receive a daily phone call from a stranger to encourage them to have a good day. I wish.