42: The Biggest Hearts

42: The Biggest Hearts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

The Biggest Hearts

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?

~George Eliot

All three of my children were sick with the flu. Six-month-old Ann was feverish and miserable. I rocked her and sang to her softly, but nothing seemed to comfort her. My husband had our sole car and was working long hours for low pay, and I was alone and worried. There was no money to bring her to a doctor.

Four-year-old Billy’s fever had gone down a little, and he followed me around all morning, trying to help. “It’s okay, Ann,” he said, handing her a soft baby toy.

The night before had been devastating. I had slapped some peanut butter and jelly on some bread for the kids and poured them each a half-cup of milk. All we had in the refrigerator was a quart of milk, grape jelly, and a couple of eggs. There was no fresh orange juice, fresh fruit, or soup to feed my children.

Then my two-and-a-half-year-old, Michelle, had asked me for a coloring book, and I didn’t have a single unused one in the apartment. That was the last straw. I had locked the bathroom door and turned on the shower so the kids wouldn’t hear me crying.

I had friends who were in the same dire straits as I was, but somehow they were handling it better. My friend Elaine lived in the apartment across from me. Her baby girl was the same age as Ann, and people from their church helped her with everything. When she arrived home from the hospital after giving birth, her church friends came over to clean and brought over flowers, huge casseroles and an endless parade of gifts. I secretly wished they would visit me.

My friend Dale lived in the apartment complex too. She didn’t have much, but was always smiling. I could have really used some of her cheerfulness that day.

Elaine and Dale wanted me to join them at their Bible study. “Why don’t you come with us?” they asked. “We’ll drive you. They have a babysitter there.”

I always had some excuse not to join them. Most days, I could barely function.

Dale couldn’t wait to tell me about a family with small children whose car was destroyed by a fire. “You wouldn’t believe what a woman from our church did,” she said as I folded a huge mountain of laundry.

“What?”

“A lady from church donated her car. Can you believe it? People can be so kind.”

Dale’s family struggled as much as ours, but she had a grateful spirit.

I thought about that as I sat there, rocking Ann, and marveling at my friends’ good spirits. And then the doorbell rang.

People rarely came over, and most of my friends worked. I wondered who it could be.

Billy opened the door.

“Who is it?” I asked. The room around me was scattered with used, germy tissues and I wasn’t dressed for company. I didn’t want to invite anyone in.

“Nobody,” Billy said, looking around. “But there’s a big bag on the doorstep.”

“A bag? I wasn’t expecting anything.” Wearily, I rose from the rocking chair, cradling the baby.

Right outside there was a brown paper bag stuffed with groceries.

“Where did that come from?” I asked. Billy shrugged his shoulders. He dragged the bag inside.

We were amazed at what we saw. Inside the bag were a couple of big cans of chicken noodle soup, jars of baby food, a container of rainbow sherbet ice cream, a box of fluffy tissues and animal crackers. Tears filled my eyes. Who could have done such a wonderful thing for us?

“Look, Mom,” said two-year-old Michelle, clapping her hands in delight. “There’s a coloring book and crayons!”

I stood in silence, overcome with gratitude, yet completely bewildered.

First, the children feasted on warm chicken soup and were delighted with the dessert of cool rainbow sherbet that soothed their throats. They scribbled happily in the coloring book. Yet still I wondered. Where did that mysterious bag of groceries come from?

Elaine called to ask how we were doing.

“Listen, please don’t tell her I told you this, but I know who left the groceries at your house.”

“Who?”

“It was Dale.”

“But that’s impossible. How did she do that? She’s struggling, too.”

“With her food stamps,” said Elaine. “And we qualified for a program that gives the children food. We have lots of extra cereal for your kids if you want it.”

I was speechless and forever changed by their kindness. To this day, I strive to pass it on. There are people in America who don’t have much, but they have the biggest hearts. And that makes all the difference in someone’s life.

~L.A. Strucke

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