One year ago
I was living in Maine and working closely with a stigmatized, marginalized subset of our society. In a short time I learned more about respect, strength, humanity, humor, perspective and power than I had in many years working and being with people in other capacities. I was honored to be a part of it and valued the lessons and gifts I received.

At Christmastime, with the help of a creative friend, I made homemade postcards to give to as many people as I could. I knew I would be living in Austin soon and I wanted to wish them joy…more than anything, I wanted them to experience and have joy. I wanted to give them a small token of the gratitude I felt for them. I wrote a lot of cards and I admit, I thought about each one, each person, each message. However, it never occurred to me the influence one of these cards held.

John (I’ve changed his name) and I had formed a comfortable, professional bond. We were similar in age and he was a lifelong alcoholic. He had survived an abusive, traumatic childhood and that set the foundation for adulthood. John trusted me. Most everyone in John’s life had given up on the thought that he could or would ever stop drinking. He was homeless and his story broke my heart. And frankly, I liked him and I saw his potential. I liked that he still had humor, I liked that despite some terrible choices, he still knew right from wrong, he honored the code of ‘do unto others…’; he started drinking to cope with his painful life and like so many, the alcohol took over.  I believed he could get better and he saw that I did. The more we talked, the more we both believed there was hope.

 Through concerted effort from both of us in the form of calls, letters and months of patience while John lived on the freezing streets of Portland, we waited for a chance to get him the help he so desperately needed and deserved. Christmas came and I gave John the card. I recognized that the card meant a lot to him when I gave it to him, he was moved by the message of a simple card. I had no idea how much.

Fast forward almost one year later
I now live in Austin and haven’t seen John or any of those resilient people in a long time yet they are still alive and well in my heart. My phone rang recently and I recognized the Maine area code but not the number. It was John. Sober, employed and living in a safe, supportive place and he wanted to tell me about it. He explained how well he was doing, he commented that I was the person who helped him tap into the courage it takes to fight his disease.  And he then asked for a favor.

He explained that the card I had given him one year ago was tattered, torn, stained and the ink had worn off. He said he could barely read my name and he keeps it protected in a plastic baggie. John asked if I would mail him a new Christmas card and gave me his address. We laughed and rejoiced that he had an address because a year before he did not. 

A new card went in the mail to John the following morning full of good wishes and hope and interestingly enough – my cards this year convey the same message: Joy.

I’m neither claiming to have changed the world nor am I asking for acknowledgment, but I wanted to share that our words and actions have the potential to carry much more weight than we may realize.

                        With every deed you are sowing a seed
                              
although you may not see the harvest. 
                                                
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

 In this coming year, my wish is that all of us remember that the slightest action, good or bad, the smallest word, compliment or insult, leaves a wake behind which will affect others. My wish is that we always remember that everything we do leaves behind a wake: every word, every action and every thought. The wake we leave behind is up to us.

Thanks for reading and wishing you Joy,
~ Haven

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