One Man's Kindness to a Teenage Girl

By Heidi Stokes

My first job in high school was waitressing. I wanted to do everything perfectly but I kept messing up. For some reason I had a mental block when people asked me to bring their drinks to them with their meal instead of right after they ordered. Over and over again, I’d bring people their food and forget their drinks. So many people got so upset with me. I understood why they were angry — they couldn’t eat their meal without their drink. I felt ashamed of myself, like I was the biggest idiot in the world.

The worst moment came when I screwed up one man’s order three different ways. He was in a wheelchair so I felt especially terrible. I was really rattled and felt like it was the end of the world. As I apologized for the third or fourth time, he reached out, touched my arm, looked me in the eye and said, “It’s okay. It’s one meal out of a lifetime of meals. I can wait.” NO one had EVER acted like that before. I wanted to kiss his feet.

It was a watershed moment. With just a few kind words, he put everything in perspective. I was making honest mistakes and doing the best I could at the time. I stopped beating myself up when other customers would make mean-spirited comments. Because he was kind to me, I learned to be kinder to myself. And ever since then, I began looking for opportunities to say a kind word to others who were having a bad day.

I later found out that this man had a degenerative muscle disease and only had a year or so to live. I think of him every time I reach out to someone in distress. And I am honored that in this way, his legacy of kindness lives on.

Heidi and Brad Stokes are alive and well, and that in itself is a miracle given all they’ve been through. I interviewed Heidi about their epic journey from death’s door back to health and happiness. Here, in Heidi’s own words, interspersed with actual journal entries from their CaringBridge journal, is their incredible, inspiring story.

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This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 16: Kindness