MEXICO — The below short story was written by Mexico Middle School student Avery Mack in response to a recent call for submissions to a school contest. District and school administrators alike applauded Mack for her message of positivity during these difficult and uncertain times.
The television in the corner issues warnings while words like “PANDEMIC” and “death toll” scroll across the bottom. Outside, the weather transitions from disheartening snow to a seasonal downpour. People who once shared polite conversations while watching their children play sports together now battle over necessities. The entire world seems to be on thin ice, just inches above plummeting into catastrophe.
Then there is a spark. Not a horrific fire to worsen the situation but a spark of kindness in a small pink bedroom in a home somewhere on the outskirts of Mexico, NY. A young girl is sitting on her bed feeling nothing but boredom when she gets the idea to chat with her grandma. She scoops up her tablet from her small brown desk and calls her grandma who she hasn’t seen in about a month now. She answers and is overcome with joy when she realizes her young granddaughter called her. The old woman has been alone with few things to do, having no work to do in retirement and no more spring-cleaning left. They talk for ten minutes and end the call with a truthful “I love you.”
The woman continues with the jigsaw puzzle she had been picking away at when she remembers she is running low on some necessities. She waits until six o’clock to leave for the local grocery store, thankful that the business has designated a shopping time for senior citizens at high risk of catching the imminent virus. In the store, she is almost through her grocery list when she nears the toilet paper aisle and notices a sign that reads: “All shoppers are limited to two packages of toilet paper. Thank you for understanding!” She grabs a package of 10 rolls and feels lucky as she reaches for her second package, for it is the last one on the shelf. Then she remembers the simple act of kindness her granddaughter had shared earlier that day by calling her. She leaves the second package, figuring that if a girl confined to her own bedroom can share some love, then so can she. The woman leaves, feeling excited about the meal she is to make when she gets home.
About ten minutes later, a young man pulls into the same grocery store, hoping he’ll find what he needs for his wife and three children waiting at home for food, diapers, toothpaste, and a few other things. As he puts a box of diapers in his cart that will surely sustain his newborn daughter for a month or so, he spots a lone package of toilet paper nearby. Feeling lucky after finding no diapers or toilet paper at the two stores he visited previously, he takes the items and goes home to his family. Thinking about it later, he realized that someone must have purposely left the package when they might have needed it just as much. Feeling his faith in humanity being restored he sees a headline on his cell phone about people making encouraging signs for medical workers on the frontlines of the current health battle. He thinks of the old man down the street who came out of retirement to help at the nearest hospital. With the small act of selflessness he received that day in mind, he enlists his two oldest children to help him with a project. The next day the young family erects a homemade sign in their front yard to show their neighbor a bit of appreciation.
On his way to the hospital that morning, the old man sees a sign in his neighbors’ yard that hadn’t been there when he came home yesterday. He looks closely and makes out a message that reads: “Thank you medical heroes! You are awesome.” Feeling encouraged, he continues the drive to his temporary job and begins treating sick people with caution. On a quick lunch break, he sees a lunch pail in the fridge that is shared by the employees in his department. He leaves a note on it with a smiley face and tells the unknown recipient to have a good day. He continues to care for people and experiences a warm, fuzzy feeling when he drives home to his wife and dog and sees the sign again.
A few hours before the old man went home, a surgeon in her fifties took a much-deserved break from her 12-hour shift at the hospital. Reaching for her lunch that she had hastily packed that morning, the woman finds a teal post-it note on it. It has a dainty smile sketched on it with a positive message. The woman thinks about the way positivity has become so rare and she appreciated the kind person who left it for her. She struggled through fatigue for the last few hours of the workday and called her daughter when she got back to her big home in the suburbs of the city. When her daughter answered, the woman talked to her about what was going on- as they always did on their daily calls- and told her about how lucky their family is. “After all,” she said, “I am considered ‘essential’ and can still afford to keep the heat on and you can still earn your degree from your computer.” The mother and daughter bode each other goodnight and went to bed.
The next day, the surgeon’s daughter woke from a ten-hour sleep in her small apartment near the college she is now attending online. She began her now automatic routine of taking off her pajamas to put on sweatpants, a T-shirt, and a classic messy bun. She ate a bowl of oatmeal and as she sat down for another session of electronic education, missing her friends and family, she decided to write a letter. She got out some lined paper and a purple pen and found a stamp buried in the drawer of her nightstand. She wrote to her boyfriend who lived in another state because of the college he was attending and told him all about her quarantined life. She printed out a few memes she had found online and put those in an envelope along with the letter and a “Don’t Worry Be Happy” sticker. Then she reluctantly started her daily task of homeschooling and later heated up some ramen noodles for lunch.
In a few days, a young man in Michigan received a letter from his girlfriend who he missed badly. He cherished her writing and actually laughed out loud at the memes, which subsequently startled his roommate. After texting her a thank you and adding a yellow heart emoji, he went for a short walk at the nearby park. While he was walking, he thought about how happy he was to hear from his girlfriend in a way that felt more personal than an abbreviated text message. A few moments later he saw a girl that resembled his younger sister and thought she might appreciate a kind note. In fact, if he mailed it today, he could probably send her a homemade birthday card. He had planned to just call her and celebrate when things calmed down, but a card sounded nice too. With some paper, glitter glue, and markers, the card was complete and in the mail.
When the card reached the mailbox of his family back home, the father brought in the mail and saw something addressed to his daughter from his son. He called her from the living room where she had just finished opening a few presents and gave it to her. She was elated when she saw that her big brother had made her a card and sent it all the way to her from Michigan. She showed her parents and started down the hallway to her bedroom. It was so nice to hear from people that she didn’t live with. The last person she had talked to was her retired grandma, and that was almost a week ago. Inside her pink room with the little brown desk, she pinned the card to a bulletin board and scooped her tablet from her desk. She Facetimed her brother and thought about what an unconventionally quarantined and crazy, yet perfectly happy birthday it was.
Isn’t it funny what a little act of kindness can do?