Click Here To Learn More About Jinny Anderson
My mother's oldest brother was married to a lady who was widely known as one of the nicest people anyone ever met. She was a kind, compassionate, sweet tempered, lovely woman who engaged in all manner of random acts of kindness and was loved by everyone who knew her. When my uncle retired from the Army in the 50's they lived on the Hudson River in one of those old mansions that some rich family had owned before they were wiped out in the stock market crash. It was just one in a long row of them that had once belonged to the rich and elite from the gilded age who had ultimately shut them down and abandoned them because they were ruined and there was a time when anyone with a decent income could pick them up for a song. My uncle was a retired general and an aerospace engineer who worked for NASA, so I am sure they had a very robust income for the time. They bought the place and fixed it up nicely but there were plenty of equivalent domiciles on the river that were pretty run down, as was the one up the river from them. The occupant of this dying monstrosity was a very, very old man who lived in a kind of sad, elegant squalor in the few rooms of the house that were still habitable. My Aunt, who worried about him, took it upon herself to take care of him as much as she could. She would go over to his place and clean and cook for him, do his laundry, and generally care for him. If she made casseroles or pies or cakes or anything else, she would make one for him. She bought him clothes and linen for his bed and any number of small things that he needed, read to him when his eyes became very bad, took him to the doctor, and was just generally her normal angel of mercy self. My uncle, who was not anywhere near as generous of spirit as she was, would often just shake his head at her devotion to the old guy but he never tried to stop her. He knew how she was and loved her for it. She went on caring for the old man, who adored her, until the day he died.
When I was young there was a gentleman who lived in our town who was kind of the local character. He had no car, no home, no anything that anyone knew about. He was a lovely old fellow and everyone was fond of him. He lived on the property of a couple who had a little guest house that they let him use rent free. The woman often cooked for him and he would bring his laundry to the house and she would wash it. He always wore the same outfit, no matter what the season, brown pants, a button down shirt, and a brown jacket that seemed to large for him. Hardly a day went by that we didn't see him walking down the road carrying a brown bag of apples or oranges he purchased at the local store. If we were walking down the road he would always stop to talk with us and offer us a piece of fruit from the bag. We always took one and oddly, it always seemed to be the most perfectly ripe and delicious fruit we ever had. He was gentle and sweet and odd, but not at all creepy. My parents liked him and so did we. I never learned if he had a last name, we all just called him 'Carl'. Carl was a nice man.
When Carl passed away suddenly we were very sad. Then some very interesting things happened. A man in a snazzy car showed up from San Francisco. It turned out that he was Carl's attorney. Who knew Carl had an attorney? It seemed that Carl had left a will and in that will he had left everything to the nice couple who had given him a home. It was also revealed that Carl had been a rather successful businessman before retiring to our town and had an estate valued at 3.5 million dollars. The town was in shock. Why had Carl lived the way he lived if he was worth that much money? My father wasn't as shaken as everyone else by the realization that there was a lot more to Carl than met the eye. He simply said that Carl had lived the way he wanted to.
When the old man who lived next to my Aunt passed away he left everything, which amounted to a broken down mansion and whatever was in it, to her. It turned out that the broken down mansion was the depository of 5 million dollars in cash and bonds that he had stuffed into the mattresses and furniture. Everyone was stunned.
The point of these stories is two-fold. Neither my Aunt nor the nice couple in my home town did what they did for personal gain. As far as they knew, there was nothing to be gained other than the satisfaction of being able to help another human being who needed it. They were just exceptionally kind and generous people. They were nice people who lived by a code of compassion without judgment and generosity without thought of personal gain. That is the second point, that being judgmental is narrow and myopic. None of us, really, have anything but a Readers Digest version of anyone else's life when it comes down to it and a couple of chapters doesn't make a whole book.
Kindness is truly its own reward, but that doesn't mean that it isn't satisfying when good people get rewarded for their good deeds.
Would you like to read past issues of That's Life? Click Here