It was Christmastime at Gallaudet
University in Washington, DC, the
world's only liberal arts university for the deaf. The campus was nearly
deserted, so I was almost alone. It was my first Christmas away from my
family -- with no Christmas tree, no burning fireplace, no fabulous
dinner, no laughter, no gifts to open. I just could not afford to fly
home, and felt awfully sorry for myself.
On one gloomy, rainy afternoon, feeling dejected, I dragged myself to a
nearby post office to send a package home. I normally wear a hearing aid
from early in the morning until bedtime in the evening. That day, I just
did not want to hear anything, so I left my hearing aid in my dormitory
room and rendered myself stone deaf.
The weather was plain miserable. Inside the post office, each window had
a line of at least a dozen people. I was standing in one of the lines,
with all the other faceless customers, when the door swung open. In came
in a boy, perhaps 12 years old, soaked wet. He was selling copies of the
Washington Post for ten cents each. There was nothing else for me to
look at, so I watched him.
He went up to each person and offered a newspaper for sale. Person after
person, line after line, no one would buy. Most people pretended not to
notice him. Finally, he came up to me. I told him that I didn't need the
paper because my college reading room was always supplied with
newspapers. He left me and went on to other people.
No one bought any of his newspapers, and I started to feel some sort of
pain about him. I searched my pocket and found a quarter. I motioned for
him to come over and gave him my quarter. He got fifteen cents change
for me, and I told him to keep it. He handed me the paper, and I told
him that I didn't need it. He looked at me, puzzled, then started
shouting words that I could not hear or understand.
Suddenly, all the unknown people in the post office turned in my
direction, and they all smiled. It was an unexpected and astonishing
moment. Whatever he said must have been wonderful.
He had no way to know what effect his shouted thanks would have on me;
no way to know my situation that Christmas. Whoever he was, he had a
choice, and he chose to thank me in a way which altered my holiday
completely. I'll never forget his incredible thank you, for it changed
an otherwise lonely Christmas into one of my finest.