Thanks to all of you who entered this contest. Our final entry is from Michael Dilts, whose lament was that his poetry was lost–a loss of words! Many of you, including Michael, understood the nuance of the prompt: an act of kindness does not have to be dramatic, stunning, or even life changing. The accumulated acts of goodness and kindness, small but steady, can fill every heart threatened with emptiness, every soul threatened by dehydration.
For reasons unknown this contest did not inspire much participation. Indeed, we had only nine entries. (Will everyone who entered send me an email with your shirt size, please?). Acts of goodness and kindness are with us everyday, and I personally take great pleasure acknowledging them when they do occur. Events similar to what we find in Michael’s entry.
We will let this sit for a week, gather comments, and the staff will announce a winner in the middle of the month, as well as providing a new prompt and a new contest.
The Programmer, the Thief and an Angel in Hiding
Michael R. Dilts
It happened in Providence, Rhode Island, birthplace and home of the notorious author of macabre science fiction, H.P. Lovecraft. At the time, I was living in Massachusetts and working for a computer company which is now long-defunct. I had visited Providence several times but had never thought to make a pilgrimage to any of the places where Lovecraft lived or wrote or to the graveyard where he was buried. Nor did I do so on this occasion. My soul had not yet been corrupted by the call of the “Elder Gods.”
I did read some Lovecraft stories back when I was in high school and spent my afternoons hiding in the back shelves of the public library while being paid to work as a page. I had found them – well “interesting” but not particularly compelling. My errand at the moment had nothing to do with pulp fiction or fantasy literature. I was heading to town “on business.”
I left work and drove down Interstate 95 in the early afternoon in hopes of avoiding the Boston traffic with mostly successful results. I even found a parking spot not too far from the Brown University Electrical Engineering building. I was here to represent my company at a computer conference, and back then “computer science” was typically studied under the purview of Electrical Engineering. There had been the promise of a dinner as part of the conference, so I made it a point not to arrive late.
There were no “fan-lighted Colonial doorways” or “graceful Georgian steeples” in this part of the Brown campus. My destination was located in a mundane concrete modern high-rise. I retrieved a notebook from my backpack before carefully locking the car. Brown was an “ivy-league university,” but one could never be too sure of a campus neighborhood. I left the backpack on the front seat. It was nothing special – worn blue nylon with leather straps. I preferred it to a lugging a briefcase around. “Real programmers eat quiche, wear sandals with socks and carry backpacks.”
When I returned to the car, the street was dark and shadow-haunted. In the light of a streetlamp I noticed the broken window and the blood on the seat. My backpack was gone. This was decades before the ubiquity of cellular networks, so I found a campus phone and called the Brown University police. An officer arrived after a not extensive delay, took a look at the scene and asked if I had surprised the culprit.
No, not as far as I knew, though the question gave me a bit of a shiver.
Anything important in the stolen backpack?
Just some papers. As I answered, I remembered that it contained a mortgage application with all of my personal information and bank details. Identity theft not being such a concern at the time, I was actually more disconcerted by the thought that I had left part of a poem I was composing in the pack. Just a few verses I had scribbled down after a moment of inspiration. Lost forever now, I supposed.
The police officer took down my information dutifully but made it abundantly clear that I should not harbor any irrational expectations of ever seeing my property again.
Early the next morning the phone beside my bed rang. It was an old black rotary phone with the kind of bell that could wake the dead. After mumbling a sleepy “hello” I heard my name spoken by an unfamiliar voice with an all too familiar New England accent. The caller identified herself as a resident of Providence who had discovered a drift of papers scattered across her lawn. My name and phone number had appeared on some of the sheets, hence our conversation. There was no sign of the backpack.
Would she be willing to mail the papers to me?
Of course she would, and, in fact, my address was right there in front of her.
I offered to provide the postage fees, but no, that would not be necessary.
So I thanked her and the papers arrived in my mailbox a few days later.
Perhaps it was my poem which inspired the generosity of a stranger, but I couldn’t be sure.
I sent a check to the return address with reimbursement for the shipping costs. Should I have added a reward? What amount would not have trivialized a spontaneous act of charity? Is kindness its own reward? I would like to believe that it is.