Posts Tagged ‘Passing it forward’

New Year. Traditionally,  it is a  time for hope and renewal. I’m going to take a different path here and return to the past. Sometimes, there are life-changing events that need to be revisited again and again. These are the parts of history that would do us best if they became part of our present and the future.   I know each of us hold many such events in our lives. Here are mine:

I’m 18 years old, a freshman at the University of Hawaii, now Hilo Campus. I’m living with a Haole family as a live-in maid, working for my room and board. The transition from Kapoho is earth shattering as I  shift from chopsticks to place settings of  numerous forks and spoons.

What I missed most during these years was rice. The standard sandwich in my new household was made with mayonnaise, lettuce and peanut butter. But for some miracle at Hilo campus,   I had rice balls and okazu for lunch every day for the next 1 1/2 years.   Ella, also a freshman,  must have observed and sensed my drool as I watched her enjoy  her rice ball lunch as I bit into my Haole sandwich. So she brought me a home-made lunch of rice balls and okazu for the next 1 1/2 years before we transferred to Manoa Campus.  She made this lunch for me every day.

(Later when I transferred to Manoa Campus, I ate baloney sandwiches for 15 cents, the most I could afford.   So do not feed me baloney or peanut butter and mayo sandwiches because just thinking of them brings a dull ache to  my gut.)

I knew then, that I would take that daily rice ball and someday return this gesture of such kindness and generosity to someone who needed it as much as I did during those years. Opportunities were in abundance.

I once opened a savings account for a very musically gifted Vietnamese student who was living a life that seemed so hopeless. On his graduation from high school, I cashed in that account for his future plans.

I have observed him from afar as he passed on that rice ball. Once, he invited me to play my flute with him in Waikiki during the holiday season.

“We’ll leave a hat to make money,” I told him. “We can have a good Christmas dinner together.” He laughed and said, “Frances, I was thinking of giving that money to the hungry.”

So that rice ball continues to make a difference in other people’s lives. Last year I fulfilled my mother’s wish. I grew up hearing her voice wishfully saying, “If  I get  rich someday, I want to give a scholarship to someone at Pahoa School.” Last year a student received the first Matsue Kakugawa $1,000 Scholarship.

It doesn’t always need to cost a penny.  There are so many volunteers making a difference in nursing facilities, churches, at the Alzheimer’s Association and other non-profit organizations. During the holidays, I had the privilege of observing an act of pure human kindness.

In a supermarket aisle, a woman who reminded me of a grandmother in a kitchen, baking cookies, snarled at me, “Watch it!” when my cart got close to hers. Dumbfounded, I quickly gave her space.

In line at the post office, I heard a voice in a menacing tone growled to an elderly man, “You’re standing too close to me. People like you shouldn’t be allowed in public.”The closer we got to Christmas, the more distance we seem to need from each other.

At a furniture store, the sales people had their radar turned on full. They swooped in succession. Did they smell cash in my pocket? I shouldn’t have worn my leather coat.  “Thank you, I’m just looking,” I repeated, and walked toward their room displays.

The door opened and another customer entered. I smelled his presence before I turned to look at him. The salesman was on the man in an instant. “May I help you?”

I heard the man reply, “I just want a place to sit.”

I looked twice at him. He didn’t look like cash to me. He was unshaven with that sallow and gaunt look.  His dripping wet thin coat hung loosely around him. He looked like a refugee from Loaves and Fishes ( a refuge for the homeless)  who was out of his realm.

I braced myself for the confrontation that I knew was about to come and prepared to run defense for the man. The salesman looked the man over and then gestured to a collection of pricey sofas.

“Be my guest,” he said softly”. Then as an afterthought, “Just be careful not to wet the furniture.” He walked away. I didn’t buy anything that visit. But you can be sure, when there is cash, I’ll be back to the same store and that salesman.

There is such a need for these acts of human kindness more today than ever before. Some of the best come from complete strangers.

When I first moved to Sacramento 14 years ago, I walked around Arden Fair Mall every morning. I had no friends, except for Red, felt very alone on these walks, often thinking, “What am I doing here.”

Then one morning I ran into the Challenge Butter delivery driver, parking his delivery truck near the mall. He greeted me like an old friend. He was a handsome  young man and we used to chat on those mornings and I felt joy and not so alone. I felt I had found my first friend in Sacramento. We never did exchange names. This ended when I joined the gym.

This morning after gym, I walked over to LaBou Coffee Shop for my morning coffee when I saw the Challenge truck parked outside the parking lot. I told the driver: “Now you’re the smart one by parking on the street. Others park in the lot, blocking cars.”

He said, “Thank you, I know how those guys park.”

As he walked into the restaurant with his delivery cart, I realized he was that same young man of 14 years ago, older now. I asked him if he were delivering at the mall 14 years ago and he said he has been doing this for 23 years. I told him of what he had meant to me; that I had just moved here and never forgot his kindness. He was moved and thanked me. I wrote and sent a copy of this story to his bosses. I hope he not only got a raise but his kindness will be part of the entire personnel at Challenge Butter.

As with every experience in life, there is too, the other side of the coin. For anyone whose past memories are not as pleasant and worth preserving, unlike Ella’s rice ball,  would it be possible to take a negative memory and recreate it into a more meaningful memory to benefit our well-being and those of others?

To caregivers, you may not know it or feel it, but you belong to that very select group of people who live the humanities day after day. In your busy life, you may not know the impact you are making . There is no medal or special ceremony at the end of each day, but know that your acts of compassion and human kindness are being appreciated, observed and learned, and are being passed on to our children and to all who come in contact with you.

What better gift to leave to our future generations than a legacy of knowing what it takes to be a kind human being, and you are all of this and more.

So as another year appears before us, thank you, everyone, for your support and for all the emails and feedback. There is so much wisdom out there, please share yours with us. May our new year bring more dignity, compassion and countless acts of human kindness.  Happy New Year.

By tradition, the Emperor writes haiku for each new year.  I’m no Emperor but here is my haiku to  greet the new year.


bamboo pic haiku



This article first appeared in my Dear Frances column in the Hawaii Herald.




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