91: My Hero Helen

91: My Hero Helen

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

My Hero Helen

I think a hero is really any person intent on making this a better place for all people.

~Maya Angelou

My family was very concerned for my sister… and understandably so. How many people in today’s society would invite two complete strangers to stay in their home? Oh sure, these strangers seemed nice, and they looked normal, plus their situation sounded sincere. But the pair came with no references and no shared acquaintances, and yet my sister invited them to stay with her in her Montrose, California home.

“What? I can’t believe what you’re telling me,” our mother said when Helen told her of the arrangement. “Do you realize that they can kill you in your sleep? There are two of them and only one of you! Why they might rob you blind while you’re at work!”

Actually, our entire family had the same thoughts and tried to discourage Helen from this undertaking, but it was our mother who really laid things on the line. After all, this was her daughter, these were complete strangers, and this was Los Angeles. For Pete’s sake — there was no one Helen could call for a quick rescue if she needed it! It’s not that my mother or the rest of our family lacks compassion or that we didn’t think Helen had good judgment. It’s just that we are protective of our kin and these could be potential criminals!

Let me back up. This story began with Helen on a flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Although the flight was short, it provided ample time for my sister to get to know the Morrisons, an Arizona couple seated in her row. The plane was only in the air for a couple of minutes when the wife, Marcie, fell asleep, leaving her husband Daniel and my sister sitting next to each other in silence. Maybe it was a feeling of awkwardness that sparked it, or maybe it was the need to unload. Whatever the case, within minutes Daniel began to relate the couple’s story, one that would keep my sister riveted for the duration of the trip.

He told my sister how he and Marcie had flown to Los Angeles that morning to meet with a doctor of alternative medicine about treating Marcie for her stage 4 breast cancer. Since the prognosis of the doctors in Phoenix had been bleak (they had given Marcie only a few months to live) the couple had decided to pursue other forms of treatment. Although they both felt good about what had been described to them that day, they were also dismayed to learn that the alternative treatment carried a $34,000 price tag and would not be covered by insurance. Additionally, they’d have to pay for a place to stay while Marcie underwent treatment.

“The money’s not even a consideration,” Daniel explained. “What’s debt compared to keeping my wife alive?” At this point tears coursed their way down Daniel’s face and my sister joined right in. Marcie was only thirty-five years old and they had five children between ages two and twelve.

When it came time to deplane, Daniel woke Marcie, and since she was unable to walk, requested a wheelchair. It was while my sister was waiting with them for the chair that she made the decision that had our family so concerned. Helen gave the Morrisons her business card and explained that they could stay with her during their trips to Los Angeles. “It’s not much, I know, but maybe it would help with your money situation.”

Helen received a call from Daniel the following week saying that he and Marcie had talked it over and they would like to take her up on her generous offer. They arrived the following Wednesday and left on Sunday. Helen admitted that the first night was a sleepless one — alone in her house with two people she had only known for an hour or so. The uneasy feelings continued the next morning as she left for work. What would the place look like when she returned? When Helen got home from work that night, she found that Daniel and Marcie had prepared dinner and were waiting to share the meal with her. Helen slept well that night and had no second thoughts as she left for work Friday morning. And so this arrangement continued for several months.

A PET scan showed that despite all efforts, the cancer had traveled to Marcie’s spine, tailbone, and down both legs. The Morrisons’ miracle cure was not to be. Helen kept in constant contact with them over the next difficult months. She was there to help with fundraising efforts and to offer a shoulder to cry on. She couldn’t help but wonder at the course of events. What force — what plan — had brought the three of them together and then compelled her to invite them into her home? Whatever the case, she knew that she had done exactly as she was supposed to.

I guess it would be an understatement to say that my family’s feelings of concern changed to feelings of admiration! We are all so proud of our Helen! Acts of kindness have a ripple effect. What would happen if everyone in this world treated people in need the way my sister did?

Helen’s tale of compassion has been added to the roster of life lessons she’s taught me through the years. I’ve adopted values like generosity and thoughtfulness from witnessing her actions. I’ve aspired to self-development through continued education and a strong work ethic from her mentorship. My sister was my hero way before she took the Morrisons under her wing. Yet with every good deed she continues to do, her “super powers” keep getting stronger!

~Nancy Noel Marra

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