Planting Goodwill



I never get tired of hearing stories about the power of words, and how they are able to create bonds of love. My cousin recently told me this one about her father and the lifelong close relationship he forged with a family on the other side of the world long before the Internet, and I was captivated.


After serving in World War II, my uncle heard that the German people were struggling to rebuild their lives, so he gathered up his spare clothes and donated them to his Lutheran church to send overseas. Among this pile of clothes was the winter coat that ironically the army had supplied him with to keep him warm during his wartime duty. He pinned a piece of paper with his name and address on the inside. Not long after, he received a letter written in German, which he had translated by a friend. It was from a man who had two small daughters whose winter jackets had worn out, so he took his winter coat and used the material to make two separate coats for them. Meanwhile, he heard about a nearby Lutheran church that was providing clothes for those in need, so he stopped by to check it out and found my uncle’s coat. It was just the right size. He was thrilled to find the address inside, and sat down to write a letter to express his gratitude for what was for him a luxurious gift. My uncle was thrilled that his coat was to be used by someone in need, and he wrote back to the man telling him so, and asking for more information about his family.

Here I will interject to describe my beautiful uncle. He was one of the friendliest, upbeat and outgoing men I have ever encountered in my life. When he passed away in 2011 at the age of 96, I knew heaven was shining brighter that day. I miss his spirit, generosity and kindness, which rubbed off on me as we took long walks on sunny days in his garden when I was a little girl. His heart was always full and blossomed like the lilies he showed me. Although he lived in Albany and our family visits were infrequent, I was always so excited to see him.

He and the German man kept up a dedicated correspondence that lasted decades with the two of them exchanging photographs, family stories and (once the man got back on his financial feet) gifts that included expensive porcelain treasures. That speaks volumes about humanity over politics. It brings my heart great joy to envision that German man being kept warm by a coat made by the U.S. Army for one of its soldiers, and the friendship that resulted from one simple act.

Today there is unrest in the Ukraine. I have no control over where or how our leaders are going to act. However, using the more modern heart-to-heart tactics my uncle may have employed today to establish personal contact, I have found and connected with a Ukrainian couple through LinkedIn. I am able to send them my support, love and wishes for safety. In return I am entertained, encouraged and enlightened by their daily video updates where I get to learn about their culture, geography and life in their country. It is an important reminder that we are all in this world together, most of us desiring a peaceful way to live, raise our families and promote kindness. We are all human and able to find that common element of love if we are willing to look deep enough.

Thank you, Uncle Ray, for teaching me that communication can be so powerful and that taking the time to reach out and do the right thing is always worth it.