(Story originally published here)
As I walked home one freezing day, I stumbled on a wallet someone had lost in the street. I picked it up and looked inside to find some identification so I could call the owner. But the wallet contained only three dollars and a crumpled letter that looked as if it had been in there for years.
The envelope was worn and the only thing that was legible on it was the return address.
I started to open the letter, hoping to find some clue. Then I saw the dateline–1924. The letter had been written almost sixty years ago. It was written in a beautiful feminine handwriting on powder blue stationery with a little flower in the left-hand corner. It was a “Dear John” letter that told the recipient, whose name appeared to be Michael, that the writer could not see him any more because her mother forbade it. Even so, she wrote that she would always love him.
It was signed, Hannah.
It was a beautiful letter, but there was no way except for the name Michael, that the owner could be identified. Maybe if I called information, the operator could find a phone listing for the address on the envelope.
Operator,” I began, “this is an unusual request. I’m trying to find the owner of a wallet that I found. Is there anyway you can tell me if there is a phone number for an address that was on an envelope in the wallet?” She suggested I speak with her supervisor, who hesitated for a moment then said, “Well, there is a phone listing at that address, but I can’t give you the number.” She said, as a courtesy, she would call that number, explain my story and would ask them if they wanted her to connect me. I waited a few minutes and then she was back on the line. “I have a party who will speak with you.”
I asked the woman on the other end of the line if she knew anyone by the name of Hannah. She gasped, “Oh! We bought this house from a family who had a daughter named Hannah. But that was 30 years ago!”
“Would you know where that family could be located now?” I asked.
“I remember that Hannah had to place her mother in a nursing home some years ago,” the woman said. “Maybe if you got in touch with them they might be able to track down the daughter.”
She gave me the name of the nursing home and I called the number. They told me the old lady had passed away some years ago but they did have a phone number for where they thought the daughter might be living.
I thanked them and phoned. The woman who answered explained that Hannah herself was now living in a nursing home.
This whole thing was stupid, I thought to myself. Why was I making such a big deal over finding the owner of a wallet that had only three dollars and a letter that was almost 60 years old?
Nevertheless, I called the nursing home in which Hannah was supposed to be living and the man who answered the phone told me, “Yes, Hannah is staying with us. ”
Even though it was already 10 p.m., I asked if I could come by to see her. “Well,” he said hesitatingly, “if you want to take a chance, she might be in the day room watching television.”
I thanked him and drove over to the nursing home. The night nurse and a guard greeted me at the door. We went up to the third floor of the large building. In the day room, the nurse introduced me to Hannah.
She was a sweet, silver-haired old timer with a warm smile and a twinkle in her eye.
I told her about finding the wallet and showed her the letter. The second she saw the powder blue envelope with that little flower on the left, she took a deep breath and said, “Young man, this letter was the last contact I ever had with Michael.”
She looked away for a moment deep in thought and then said Softly, “I loved him very much. But I was only 16 at the time and my mother felt I was too young. Oh, he was so handsome. He looked like Sean Connery, the actor.”
“Yes,” she continued. “Michael Goldstein was a wonderful person. If you should find him, tell him I think of him often. And,” she hesitated for a moment, almost biting her lip, “tell him I still love him. You know,” she said smiling as tears began to well up in her eyes, “I never did marry. I guess no one ever matched up to Michael…”
I thanked Hannah and said goodbye. I took the elevator to the first floor and as I stood by the door, the guard there asked, “Was the old lady able to help you?”
I told him she had given me a lead. “At least I have a last name. But I think I’ll let it go for a while. I spent almost the whole day trying to find the owner of this wallet.”
I had taken out the wallet, which was a simple brown leather case with red lacing on the side. When the guard saw it, he said, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s Mr. Goldstein’s wallet. I’d know it anywhere with that bright red lacing. He’s always losing that wallet. I must have found it in the halls at least three times.”
“Who’s Mr. Goldstein?” I asked as my hand began to shake.
“He’s one of the old timers on the 8th floor. That’s Mike Goldstein’s wallet for sure. He must have lost it on one of his walks.”
I thanked the guard and quickly ran back to the nurse’s office. I told her what the guard had said. We went back to the elevator and got on. I prayed that Mr. Goldstein would be up.
On the eighth floor, the floor nurse said, “I think he’s still in the day room. He likes to read at night. He’s a darling old man.”
We went to the only room that had any lights on and there was a man reading a book. The nurse went over to him and asked if he had lost his wallet. Mr. Goldstein looked up with surprise, put his hand in his back pocket and said, “Oh, it is missing!”
“This kind gentleman found a wallet and we wondered if it could be yours?”
I handed Mr. Goldstein the wallet and the second he saw it, he smiled with relief and said, “Yes, that’s it! It must have dropped out of my pocket this afternoon. I want to give you a reward.”
“No, thank you,” I said. “But I have to tell you something. I read the letter in the hope of finding out who owned the wallet.”
The smile on his face suddenly disappeared. “You read that letter?”
“Not only did I read it, I think I know where Hannah is.”
He suddenly grew pale. “Hannah? You know where she is? How is she? Is she still as pretty as she was? Please, please tell me,” he begged.
“She’s fine…just as pretty as when you knew her.” I said softly.
The old man smiled with anticipation and asked, “Could you tell me where she is? I want to call her tomorrow.” He grabbed my hand and said, “You know something, mister, I was so in love with that girl that when that letter came, my life literally ended. I never married. I guess I’ve always loved her. ”
“Mr. Goldstein,” I said, “Come with me.”
We took the elevator down to the third floor. The hallways were darkened and only one or two little night-lights lit our way to the day room where Hannah was sitting alone watching the television. The nurse walked over to her.
“Hannah,” she said softly, pointing to Michael, who was waiting with me in
the doorway. “Do you know this man?”
She adjusted her glasses, looked for a moment, but didn’t say a word. Michael said softly, almost in a whisper, “Hannah, it’s Michael. Do you remember me?”
She gasped, “Michael! I don’t believe it! Michael! It’s you! My Michael!” He walked slowly towards her and they embraced. The nurse and I left with tears streaming down our faces.
“See,” I said. “See how the Good Lord works! If it’s meant to be, it will be.”
About three weeks later I got a call at my office from the nursing home. “Can you break away on Sunday to attend a wedding? Michael and Hannah are going to tie the knot!”
It was a beautiful wedding with all the people at the nursing home dressed up to join in the celebration. Hannah wore a light beige dress and looked beautiful. Michael wore a dark blue suit and stood tall. They made me their best man.
The hospital gave them their own room and if you ever wanted to see a 76-year-old bride and a 79-year-old groom acting like two teenagers, you had to see this couple.
A perfect ending for a love affair that had lasted nearly 60 years.
Through a slight lack of awareness, I made a chance at a good interaction less than it could have been.
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By the time each of us has lived on this earth for fifteen years and above, something challenging, life threatening, integrity rubbishing, heart-rending, etc might have happened to us.
These kinds of things do not stop happening to us as the years go by either as a result of our great experiences in life or wisdom. Adversity, trials, temptations, heartaches, sicknesses, accidents and deaths of loved ones are intertwined with our very existence on this earth. Many of us start experiencing and suffering the impact of these at very tender ages and may live with such most of our earth life.
My father was a man who probably saw many of such in his life. He lived to be three score and thirteen years of age by our own guessing from the stories told of his age mates whose parents or senior siblings had western education and were able to keep a record of their dates of birth. He was fatherless at a young age and was persecuted by his father’s brothers. The last born of his father and mother who did not have the benefit of being supported by his father who died early in life, he was given up for someone who would turn up to no good.
One of the things we learned from our father is his excitement for having come thus far in life in spite of everything.
He was able to get married and had eleven of us by his one wife. Nine survived into adulthood, one died as a few days old infant while another died as a child.
Before he died, he did look back on his life and expressed gratitude for his achievements in raising children and securing the name of his father from extinction. He taught us many things in his conversations and counsels.
One of the things he repeated many times when he visited with any of us who were troubled and when he visited with sorrowing families who have lost a dear one is that “one does not get lost the year his goat got lost”.
In those days, this statement did not make much sense to me. But today with age, experience and personal desire and philosophy to help and support people to work through their life’s challenges as a life and personal development coach, I see the great point that my father was making as he counselled and supported us growing up and as he counselled with grieving families.
There is a popular saying that relates to this philosophy of my father - “It is not what happened to you that would hurt you, it is how you react to it.” When we react negatively to challenging situations in our lives, we get more impacted by the adversity. But if we would stop, think deeply (not worry) about what has happened to us, we would usually get insights that help us respond rather than react to the incident or situation.
The next time you face challenging situations, adversity, trials and temptations, it would be helpful if you would remember this philosophy of my father which means that you should not be destroyed by what has happened to you. If you would, you may, instead, follow the counsels contained in my book, “Growing From Your Experiences” to learn ways you could convert the life’s challenges, trials, temptations and adversity into opportunities for growth in wisdom and wealth.
Francis Nmeribe is a personal transformation teacher and industrial security practitioner from Nigeria. Contact Francis Nmeribe at http://bit.ly/2hvoWAm
There's a nice poem by Valerie Cox circulating on the Internet about a woman who bought some cookies and a book at an airport and sat down to read and nibble while waiting for her plane. She soon noticed a man sitting next to her, who casually took a cookie from the bag.
Although shocked and seething, the woman remained silent as the man, without the slightest sign of shame or gratitude, quietly helped himself, matching her cookie for cookie.
When there was one cookie left, she watched in amazement as he picked it up, smiled at her as if he were being gracious, and broke it in half. He ate one half and gave her the other.
Congratulating herself for maintaining her cool, she said nothing to this rude cookie thief, astonished at the nerve of some people.
Later, when she was settling into her seat on the plane, she rummaged through her purse and discovered the bag of cookies she'd purchased, still unopened. The moral message is contained in the poem's closing stanza:
"If mine are here," she moaned with despair,
"Then the others were his, and he tried to share."
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.
Being sure is not the same as being right. Certainty without humility can lead to self-righteousness that distorts our view and understanding of the world and of people.
Humility doesn't require us to be equivocal or doubtful about our deepest convictions. What it asks is that we hold and advocate our beliefs without dismissing the possibility that others may be right instead.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.
"You gotta be crazy!" That's what Lee Dunham's friends told him back in 1971 when he gave up a secure job as a police officer and invested his life savings in the notoriously risky restaurant business. This particular restaurant was more than just risky, it was downright dangerous. It was the first McDonald's franchise in the city of New York - smack in the middle of crime-ridden Harlem.
Lee had always had plans. When other kids were playing ball in the empty lots of Brooklyn, Lee was playing entrepreneur, collecting milk bottles and returning them to grocery stores for the deposits. He had his own shoeshine stand and worked delivering newspapers and groceries. Early on, he promised his mother that one day she would never again have to wash other people's clothes for a living. He was going to start his own business and support her. "Hush your mouth and do your homework," she told him. She knew that no member of the Dunham family had ever risen above the level of laborer, let alone owned a business. "There's no way you're going to open your own business," his mother told him repeatedly.
Years passed, but Lee's penchant for dreaming and planning did not. After high school, he joined the Air Force, where his goal of one day owning a family restaurant began to take shape. He enrolled in the Air Force food service school and became such an accomplished cook he was promoted to the officers' dining hall.
When he left the Air Force, he worked for four years in several restaurants, including one in the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Lee longed to start his own restaurant but felt he lacked the business skills to be successful. He signed up for business school and took classes at night while he applied and was hired to be a police officer.
For fifteen years he worked full-time as a police officer. In his off-hours, he worked part-time as a carpenter and continued to attend business school. "I saved every penny I earned as a police officer," he recalled. "For ten years, I didn't spend one dime - there were no movies, no vacations, no trips to the ballpark. There were only work and study and my lifelong dream of owning my own business." By 1971, Lee had saved $42,000, and it was time for him to make his vision a reality.
Lee wanted to open an upscale restaurant in Brooklyn. With a business plan in hand, he set out to seek financing. The banks refused him. Unable to get funding to open an independent restaurant, Lee turned to franchising and filled out numerous applications. McDonald's offered him a franchise, with one stipulation: Lee had to set up a McDonald's in the inner-city, the first to be located there. McDonald's wanted to find out if its type of fast-food restaurant could be successful in the inner city. It seemed that Lee might be the right person to operate that first restaurant.
To get the franchise, Lee would have to invest his life savings and borrow $150,000 more. Everything for which he'd worked and sacrificed all those years would be on the line - a very thin line if he believed his friends. Lee spent many sleepless nights before making his decision. In the end, he put his faith in the years of preparation he'd invested - the dreaming, planning, studying and saving - and signed on the dotted line to operate the first inner-city McDonald's in the United States.
The first few months were a disaster. Gang fights, gunfire, and other violent incidents plagued his restaurant and scared customers away. Inside, employees stole his food and cash, and his safe was broken into routinely. To make matters worse, Lee couldn't get any help from McDonald's headquarters; the company's representatives were too afraid to venture into the ghetto. Lee was on his own.
Although he had been robbed of his merchandise, his profits, and his confidence, Lee was not going to be robbed of his dream. Lee fell back on what he had always believed in - preparation and planning.
Lee put together a strategy. First, he sent a strong message to the neighborhood thugs that McDonald's wasn't going to be their turf. To make his ultimatum stick, he needed to offer an alternative to crime and violence. In the eyes of those kids, Lee saw the same look of helplessness he had seen in his own family. He knew that there was hope and opportunity in that neighborhood and he was going to prove it to the kids. He decided to serve more than meals to his community - he would serve solutions.
Lee spoke openly with gang members, challenging them to rebuild their lives. Then he did what some might say was unthinkable: he hired gang members and put them to work. He tightened up his operation and conducted spot checks on cashiers to weed out thieves. Lee improved working conditions and once a week he offered his employees classes in customer service and management. He encouraged them to develop personal and professional goals. He always stressed two things: his restaurant offered a way out of a dead-end life and the faster and more efficiently the employees served the customers, the more lucrative that way would be.
In the community, Lee sponsored athletic teams and scholarships to get kids off the streets and into community centers and schools. The New York inner-city restaurant became McDonald's most profitable franchise worldwide, earning more than $1.5 million a year. Company representatives who wouldn't set foot in Harlem months earlier now flocked to Lee's doors, eager to learn how he did it. To Lee, the answer was simple: "Serve the customers, the employees, and the community."
Today, Lee Dunham owns nine restaurants, employs 435 people, and serves thousands of meals every day. It's been many years since his mother had to take in wash to pay the bills. More importantly, Lee paved the way for thousands of African-American entrepreneurs who are working to make their dreams a reality, helping their communities, and serving up hope.
All this was possible because a little boy understood the need to dream, to plan, and to prepare for the future. In doing so, he changed his life and the lives of others.
Author: Cynthia Kersey
Excerpted/Adapted from Unstoppable
Copyright 1988 by Cynthia Kersey, www.unstoppable.net
While waiting to pick up a friend at the airport in Portland, Oregon, I had one of those life changing experiences that you hear other people talk about. You know, the kind that sneaks up on you unexpectedly? Well, this one occurred a mere two feet away from me!
Straining to locate my friend among the passengers deplaning through the jetway, I noticed a man coming toward me carrying two light bags. He stopped right next to me to greet his family.
First, he motioned to his youngest son (maybe six years old) as he laid down his bags. They gave each other a long, and movingly loving hug. As they separated enough to look in each other's face, I heard the father say, "It's so good to see you, son. I missed you so much!" His son smiled somewhat shyly, diverted his eyes, and replied softly, "Me too, Dad!"
Then the man stood up, gazed in the eyes of his oldest son (maybe 9 or 10) and while cupping his son's face in his hands he said, "You're already quite the young man. I love you very much Zach!" They too hugged a most loving, tender hug. His son said nothing. No reply was necessary
While this was happening, a baby girl (perhaps one or one and a half) was squirming excitedly in her mother's arms, never once taking her little eyes off the wonderful sight of her returning father. The man said, "Hi babygirl!" as he gently took the child from her mother. He quickly kissed her face all over and then held her close to his chest while rocking her from side to side. The little girl instantly relaxed and simply laid her head on his shoulder and remained motionless in total pure contentment.
After several moments, he handed his daughter to his oldest son and declared, "I've saved the best for last!" and proceeded to give his wife the longest, most passionate kiss I ever remember seeing. He gazed into her eyes for several seconds and then silently mouthed, "I love you so much!" They stared into each other's eyes, beaming big smiles at one another, while holding both hands. For an instant, they reminded me of newlyweds but I knew by the age of their kids that they couldn't be. I puzzled about it for a moment, then realized how totally engrossed I was in the wonderful display of unconditional love not more than an arm's length away from me. I suddenly felt uncomfortable, as if I were invading something sacred, but was amazed to hear my own voice nervously ask, "Wow! How long have you two been married?"
"Been together fourteen years total, married twelve of those," he replied without breaking his gaze from his lovely wife's face. "Well then, how long have you been away?" I asked. The man finally looked at me, still beaming his joyous smile and told me, "Two whole days!"
Two days?! I was stunned! I was certain by the intensity of the greeting I just witnessed that he'd been gone for at least several weeks, if not months, and I know my expression betrayed me. So I said almost offhandedly, hoping to end my intrusion with some semblance of grace (and to get back to searching for my friend), "I hope my marriage is still that passionate after twelve years!"
The man suddenly stopped smiling. He looked me straight in the eye, and with an intensity that burned right into my soul, he told me something that left me a different person. He told me, "Don't hope friend...decide." Then he flashed me his wonderful smile again, shook my hand and said, "God bless!" With that, he and his family turned and energetically strode away together
I was still watching that exceptional man and his special family walk just out of sight when my friend came up to me and asked, "What'cha looking at?" Without hesitating, and with a curious sense of certainty, I replied, "My future!"
Michael D. Hargrove
© Copyright 1997 by Michael D. Hargrove. All rights reserved. Used with author's permission. Visit Michael's website at: www.bluinc.com