Note: this story was written in 2009.
It all started in 1998 when my father died. I had been estranged from him for the year prior to his death for many complicated reasons. I was finishing college after a long ten years of struggling to put myself through school. I had one three-week summer school class left to get my degree. I took the final exam on a Friday morning and flew from San Diego to the Bay Area late on Friday night so I could visit my father.
I spent Saturday with my dad in the hospital in San Francisco and was shocked to see how poorly he was doing. He could hardly speak but he was definitely surprised and happy to see me. I told him that I had finally graduated. Around 9 p.m., I went to a nearby market to get a snack. I asked him if he wanted anything and he squeaked out the word, “Sprite!” I brought him his drink but little did I know that was the last thing my father would ever say to me. I don’t remember what time I went to my hotel room that night but I woke up at 3 a.m. and could not sleep. I wanted to go back to the hospital but I was intimidated by figuring out how to get access to him after hours. Eventually I fell back to sleep and at 5:30 a.m. I got “the call.” It was Sunday, June 21, 1998 — Father’s Day — and my dad had died.
It was about two days later, it’s all a blur, but I had to return home to San Diego. To say I was distraught is an understatement. It was very difficult to be out in the public, with the regular people and regular activities swirling around me. Somehow I got myself checked in and to the gate. I was totally unable to hide my grief. I don’t remember much of the flight, only that I was miserable and wanted to be somewhere private. I was unaware of anything but my heartache. As I was sitting in my seat waiting to disembark, a woman handed me a card silently. I remember feeling jolted by the realization that other people could see me. She left the plane and I opened the card.
This is what it said: “I saw your pain today and I wanted you to know you are in my prayers. There will be a time when you feel happiness again. Please have faith in that and it will give you comfort. Kim.” I cannot really find the words to express what a gift this woman gave me that day. I am an only child and my dad had raised me after my mother left when I was four. I felt all alone in the world when my dad died and to know a perfect stranger was showing me love was the gift of a lifetime. Time went by and I did find my feet again. I have had a lot of trials and tribulations in this life from a very young age, but this random act of kindness made a huge impression on me. I never forgot my kind stranger.
But I did forget where I put her card. For years I couldn’t find it. I knew I wouldn’t have ever gotten rid of it but I never knew where I put it. Until one recent morning, I went looking for some old photos of my dad in one of my famous bins. There was the card, nestled right in among the photos of him in Yosemite. I have looked in this bin many, many times but never saw the card until this week. To my sheer amazement, Kim’s full name was on the back of the card! I had never even thought to turn it over the day she gave it to me.
Finding this card was the biggest item on my weekly gratitude list that I emailed to my girlfriends. With the power of Google, and their encouragement, I set out to see if I could find Kim. It was easy! She is an accomplished artist and photographer and is all over the web with her beautiful art. I took a deep breath, and composed an email to her to tell her how she had helped me so much so long ago. I had no idea how she would respond but it didn’t even matter. The opportunity to thank a stranger doesn’t come along every day and I felt so good and so peaceful that I had found her.
Kim is as wonderful and amazing now as she was 11 years ago in 1998. She responded to my email with kindness, amazement and gratitude back to me. We have been corresponding back and forth. The reason this story is titled fate is because she was flying home from a friend’s funeral and had recently lost her grandmother so she was tuned into my grief. I believe in fate and that is why we were on the same flight that day. I also believe for some reason, it took me until now to find the card and locate her. I am not sure why exactly but it seems we have a connection in this life and I look forward to getting to know her now.
The moral of my story is that you never know how you might impact a stranger. It was a random act of kindness. We’ve all heard the phrase but how often do we muster the courage to reach out to a stranger the way Kim did for me? I think it took a lot of courage for her to write a grieving stranger on a shared flight a note like she did. She had no idea why I was crying so much, but she trusted her instincts and reached out with her big heart.
Our story inspires me to the deepest levels and that is why I want to share it with the world! Love and kindness (and art, frankly) makes this world turn ’round. I believe that in my bones. I know this was a long story and if you made it all the way to the end, I thank you.