From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Smallest Gestures

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

Etienne DeGrellet

It’s 10:30 P.M. on September 11, and I am pumping up a double air mattress with a manual air pump at Halifax’s Exhibition Park. Along with many other Haligonians, I arrived here around 8 P.M. to see if I could help make life a little easier for the stranded passengers. I think it’s my fifteenth mattress, and I’m tired, hot and sweaty. An older woman lying on a mattress in a donated sleeping bag looks up at me and says something. All I hear is the word “tea.” I stop my pumping and say, “Sure, I’ll definitely find you a cup of a tea.” She looks up at me and says, “Not for me, for you.”

I tell her that I appreciate the offer but that I am fine for the moment. She looks rather solemn as she lies there, by herself, amidst hundreds of other airline passengers who are wandering in and trying to find beds. She is lying on her back and staring up at the ceiling. I comment that it must have been a long day for her.

She is from New York and had been visiting England. She was on a British Airways plane that was rerouted to Halifax in the wake of the terrible events taking place in New York. She begins to tell me about her husband and two daughters who live in New York, and how she would imagine that one of her daughters and her fiancé must be terribly busy as they are both doctors.

Then I ask her the inevitable question, “Have you been in touch with your family?”

Her eyes move from looking at me, to looking at the ground. She says that she hasn’t been able to get in touch yet, but that she is confident they’re okay, and that they know she’s okay. As she talks, I can hear the hesitation and worry in her voice.

I quietly sit next to her and tell her that I work for the local cell-phone company, and offer her my phone to call her husband. A smile spreads across her face as I ask her for the number. It takes us four tries to get through, but finally, I hear ringing on the other end of the phone. I hand her the phone, she takes it, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the quivering voice that I heard next. . . .

“Joseph? I’m safe. I’m in Halifax.”

She talks for about five minutes and finds out that her family is fine. As Joseph describes the day’s events to her, she listens silently with widened eyes and a hand covering her mouth. She asks him to let her daughters know she’s okay and before she hangs up, she says, “The Canadians are wonderful. I am so impressed with Halifax.” I smile as she hands me the phone. I squeeze her hand, say good-bye and, as I’m walking away, she says, “Thank you so much. Now I can sleep tonight.”

As I gather my pump and head towards my next air mattress, I think about how impressed and proud I am of Halifax, too. I am proud of my mom for helping to find sleeping mats for people at the Dartmouth Sportsplex; I am proud of my brother who stood in line for more than three hours with eight of his colleagues from Mountain Equipment Co-Op to donate blood; I am proud of my boyfriend who helped prepare Mount Saint Vincent University for stranded passengers; and I am proud of my colleagues at MTT Mobility who scrambled around the office all afternoon gathering cell phones to donate to the cause.

In the wake of tragedy like the world experienced on September 11, everyone feels helpless. My experience at Exhibition Park has reminded me of the truth in the old saying, “Every little thing counts.” It could be a two-dollar phone call, a thought, a prayer, a donation or a hug—no matter what it is, please remember that it does count.

The smallest gestures clumped together and piled on top of each other can make a world of difference.

Deanna Cogdon

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