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Pea Soup for the Cynic's Soul

A Gesture of Kindness

Tom Drucker wore a haggard expression as he slipped the key from the knob and shed his hat and coat. "Hi honey," he said absently, setting his briefcase in the nook by the closet.

"Hi," Celia replied. "Is something wrong?" she asked, noting her husband's unusual introspection with concern.

"No," Tom said, moving into the living room to sit by his wife. "No, nothing's wrong. A former student of mine, a Miss Sandy Palmer, came to see me after school today."

"What did she want?" Celia asked, still concerned.

"She showed up in my room as I was cleaning up for the day. She introduced herself and said she was in my class four years ago. She showed me where she used to sit. But I didn't remember her."

Tom sighed thoughtfully. "I asked her what I could do for her. She said, 'I just wanted to thank you.' I smiled and asked, 'For what?'

"She seemed troubled and did not answer right away. When she spoke, she was visibly shaken. 'When I was in your class,' she said, 'I was going through a real hard time in my life. My parents had divorced the previous year, and I lived with my father. He used to...abuse me.' She seemed terribly uncomfortable. I told her she didn't need to continue, but she insisted and said, 'It's ok. I told myself I would say this, and I think I need to.' I nodded politely and gave her my attention.

"'One evening, I hit rock bottom,' she said. 'I hated my life. I hated being alive. My father would be on a business trip the next day -- he was going to leave early and come home late. Before I left for school, I took out a roll of tape and patched up every hole and crack in the garage that I could find. I was going to go to school, and when I came home, I'd lock myself in the garage, start the car, and curl up with my teddy bear until everything was gone.'

"'What made you change your mind?' I asked her.

"'That day, in English class -- your class -- you were handing back papers. You went around to each desk, returning graded essays. When you got to me, you put your hand on my shoulder -- a friendly gesture that probably meant nothing to you -- and told me that I had done a good job. You probably don't even remember. But that gesture of kindness saved my life. It told me that there was kindness in the world, that not everyone was like my father. It showed me that I was good at something, that my life was maybe worth something. You saved my life, Mr. Drucker. And that's why I had to come back to talk to you. I had to come back to thank you.'

"I was speechless," Tom told his wife. "I didn't know what you say to her. So I smiled and kind of nodded to her. And then she rummaged in the bag at her side and pulled something out. 'I want you to have this,' she said. It was her teddy bear. 'I want you to have this to remember what a wonderful thing you've done for me.'

"'Thank you,' I said. I didn't know what else to say."

Celia pursed her lips, contemplating her husband's story. "It sounds like you did a wonderful thing. So what still worries you?"

Tom shook his head and sighed. "She was really ugly."

"Aw, poor honey," Celia consoled.

"I mean, she was a dog, and she spoke so slowly. I had to look at her so for long while she went through that spiel. I hate looking at ugly people, but what could I do? I couldn't exactly leave."

"Aw," Celia said again, slipping her arms around him.

"And what if some other ugly student comes in tomorrow with a sob story?" Tom continued. "I don't know if I could handle that."

"Well, no sense worrying about the future," Celia advised, resting her head against his chest. "The important thing is that you're home now, and you can look at me."

"Thank goodness for that," Tom said, returning the embrace. "That's why I married you, after all."

"You're so sweet, honey."