By Ian Hope
Calgary, Alberta — October 1, 2014 — Many acts of kindness can literally be life-changing for recipients and all of us have, at one time or another, been the beneficiary of something remarkably kind.
I would like to share a profound act of kindness in my own life. Return with me to a sunny afternoon in early May 1968 when I was finishing off Grade 12. I had started working at an early age in the hotel business, with shifts past midnight and then compensating for the late hours by dozing through my math class. The money was pretty good with tips and all and I had come to believe that I could live quite well by sticking with the hotel business. â€œWho needs a college education,â€ I reasoned.
I was getting by in most of my subjects but I could tell by my grades in Math 30 that it was definitely going to be my Waterloo. The sooner I surrendered my math text to Mr. Wayne Russel, my math teacher, the better! When class ended I waited for the others to leave, apprehensive about what Mr. Russelâ€™s reaction was going to be. I fully expected to get exactly the reaction I so richly deserved â€¦ after all, Iâ€™d been a pain in his side since September, nodding off at the back of the class, seldom able to answer any question when asked, and worse, responding with wisecracks in my uncontested role as class clown.
Iâ€™d played the expected scene out in my mind a hundred times. Mr. Russel (not long out of university, so just a few years more than my seventeen) would at first go quiet, then look down and show a mouthful of teeth, enjoying the moment that he finally ground me into submission. Next heâ€™d take that awful text and slam it on top of his desk, boisterously telling me what a waste of skin I truly was and how he was happy to now see me bail out, and finally, that both he and the class would be the better for my departure.
As rehearsed in my mind, Iâ€™d slither out the door never to be seen by him again. Iâ€™d then be off to my next shift (of many more to come over the years) at the hotel. Although shaken and humiliated, I would be shed of both math as well as any thought of ever going on to college.
None of this happened. Instead, he asked me to close the door and then gestured for me to sit down. He shared with me a story about having difficulty himself in high school- but in his case the problem was with Physics 30.
He said he too had wanted to quit late in the school year, but something made him continue. He told me that he worked his tail off for the last six weeks of the school year and actually managed to pass Physics which was the only course that could have stopped him from going on to university to become a teacher.
I was speechless. Where I had expected to feel his anger, I felt instead his compassion. Where I was so sure Iâ€™d feel humiliation, I felt instead acceptance. I just couldnâ€™t have seen this coming and was cold-cocked by this unexpected kindness! I was deeply affected by Mr. Russelâ€™s words that afternoon. I kept that math text as heâ€™d suggested and finally I began to apply myself â€¦ and I did write the Math 30 exam at the end of June.
To cut to the chase, I passed Math 30 which allowed me to graduate high school and register for the business program at the University of Alberta. Remarkably I got honours in all my math courses. I got my Commerce degree with first class standing, and a few years later passed my exams to become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA). This was followed by a wonderful career in which doors swung open wide for me on a number of critical occasions, largely because of my academic and professional qualifications. As importantly, through my employment and profession, I was able to raise and support a family.
I just canâ€™t say this loudly enough- Wayne Russel, you rock! You literally made my life better! Thank you for responding to me, not in harshness, but instead in kindness, that afternoon in early May 1968 as I stood before you, quite ready to give up not only on math, but on myself.
So whatâ€™s your story? Who changed your life? What was their kindness? Did you let them know how they have improved your life? If not, I urge you to do it now, right now, while thereâ€™s still time. Happy thoughts to you!