Grateful Heart

I met Vincent when he was ten years old. Even then he amazed me. He was so genuine, so interested in life, in learning and in sharing.

I was working on a project designed to help Terry, a young man with a mental disability that limited his thinking and communication skills to that of a three or four year old. I wanted Terry to learn how to act in social settings. Vincent’s family had agreed to let Terry come over for a visit.

As soon as Vincent met Terry, he adopted him. He pulled out his science books and began teaching Terry. Vincent’s passion for people was apparent as he chatted and described the wonders of the universe. Terry sat mesmerized, understanding little of the jargon, but definitely understanding that he was with someone who valued him as a person. When it was time, Terry was reluctant to leave his newfound friend.

By the time Vincent was 13 he was still impacting the lives of others. I ran into him on a hot summer day at a Mall. He was shopping with his mother and sister, having an excellent time, though both of his arms were immobilized in casts. Vincent had suffered a trampoline accident. We visited and parted but then I impulsively turned back. I’d decided I wanted to give them money to buy cold drinks. I located Vincent and careful of the casts, I pressed the money into the palm of his hand.

I told him, “It’s such a hot day. I wanted to leave this money with you for a treat, perhaps some cold drinks.”

His face lit up with pleasure. His “thank you” was so profuse it floored me.

“Thank you,” he said, “Oh thank you so very much. This is so kind of you. Thank you.”

He was almost bouncing he was so delighted.

Later I discovered that Vincent’s display of gratitude did not end with thanking me. He had gone home that day, and he had animatedly told his father of my kind gesture. Not long after that Vincent and his younger sister Riana had set off on a summer adventure to dig out a tunnel in a sandbar. It was not until the next morning that a rescue party found the children. The tunnel had collapsed and Vincent and Riana died holding hands.

I attended their funeral service and as I stood by the two caskets saying a final goodbye, I turned to the parents to offer my condolences. The father spoke quietly to me while he hugged me saying, “Thank you for your selfless act.”

Puzzled, I stepped back and said, “I don’t know what I did.”

“Think about it,” was his response.

I went into the chapel and sat alone lost in thought. Then I remembered the shopping episode and the small gift of money. I knew without a doubt that Vincent’s father was referring to that. Suddenly a host of thoughts raced through my head. “Why didn’t I give them more money that day? How can this grieving father who has just lost his only son and daughter reach out to uplift me when surely he is in the depths of sadness?” Finally I came to see the final lesson that young Vincent was to leave with me.

It was: It is important to show gratitude, no matter how small the gift. It is impossible to weigh the good you do by your good deeds. An insignificant gesture or small gift may bring immeasurable joy. And the truly beautiful thing about joy is that it often branches out.

In my case it came back and touched me at Vincent’s funeral. Vincent’s genuine gratitude for even the smallest of things was a lasting gift, to his father, to me and to all who knew him. It was a fine lesson!

Ellie Braun-Haley copyright 2003

Riana and Vincent were delightful children. What a privilege to know them! This story is dedicated to their memory. Many of Ellie’s stories have been published in both on line e-zines and pocketbooks. Ellie is presently collecting true stories (of heavenly intervention) for her next book and will accept submissions up to October 31, 2003. Email her for more info.

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