At the worst moment of my family, the fifth-grade girl knew exactly what to do.
I am not a religious person, in any sense of the word. However, I consider myself incredibly spiritual and if I had to label my beliefs, I would say that kindness is my religion. I have experienced and witnessed many acts of kindness throughout my life; Many have marked me deeply, so much that they have helped to shape the person I am in at present. This is one of them. It was three weeks before she turned eleven and she was sitting at the desk watching the hands of the clock dial the same second over and over again; and that’s how I felt: frozen in time. Normally, I read the book that was open on my desk and answered the questions of the teacher, but not that day. Miss Clarence and I were waiting for the office manager to enter the fifth grade classroom and call us. My eyes jumped from the book to the door, from the door to the immobile clock, and from the clock to the teacher. Every second that did not pass, I felt my nausea worsen.
When the door finally opened, I was startled. Miss Clarence asked the manager to control the class and took out a small box that was under her desk; the box contained some of my personal items: a Cabbage Patch Kids doll, an Alf stuffed toy, Dokken and Queensrÿche cassettes, and my brother’s Metallica and Iron Maiden vinyl records. An accumulation of things; that was the only thing we would take with us when fleeing Texas and my mother’s abusive boyfriend.
A difficult feat, since my mother could not leave the house without him controlling every one of her movements. I was never sure why no one ever called the police, even after I entrusted Ms. Clarence with the sexual and physical abuse that occurred in our home, drugs and alcohol. Maybe he thought that they would lock my mother and then, where would my brother and I go? So, what happened was that my teacher and my mother became co-conspirators and planned our escape.
Miss Clarence would let me bring things from my house, only the essential items that I could not live without, and our excuse was to take them to school to share with the class, although that did not exist in the fifth grade. But what did the abusive boyfriend know?
The only problem was making my mother go to school … alone. Miss Clarence called our house, pretending to be the principal and said that my brother had been involved in a fight, and that he wanted to meet immediately with my mother, alone. After the call, all we had to do was wait for him to show up at school; Those were the longest seconds of my life.
When Miss Clarence and I went to the car, the celestial Oldsmobile of my mother’s abusive boyfriend, my body trembled with fear and grief. Miss Clarence wanted to accompany me to meet my mother in person and shake her hand. He took 20 dollars from his pocket, the only money he had, and gave it to my mother.
“I would like it to be more,” he said as he hugged us and said goodbye.
I watched as his body shrank and he lost sight before looking forward inside the car.
Four years later, when I was 14, I was cleaning the closet that my mother and I shared in my grandfather’s house. Hidden in the clothes, at the bottom of the upper shelf, was a shoe box. I had an attack of curiosity, I opened it and found old photos of schoolmates from Texas, notes and letters written by a little girl and a piece of paper folded, with the edges broken and frayed, written by a woman and you could see the Miss Clarence name and a phone number.
Do not doubt; I did not ask for permission to make a long distance call; I just dialed. When the phone rang, my heart jumped inside my chest, my throat closed. A girl’s voice answered, and somehow my throat relaxed enough to be able to speak. I asked for Miss Clarence. Without asking who I was, the little girl dropped the phone and called her mother.
-“Hello?”. My voice froze for a second, and then it snapped out.
-“Ms. Clarence, I do not know if you remember me, I’m Heather White. “
There was silence, except for the sound of children screaming in the background.
- “Hello?” I said.
He whispered in tears: “Of course I remember you.”
I swallowed hard so I could talk again. “I just wanted to tell him I’m fine.”
He said he had prayed to receive this call. After thanking him for what he had done for me, for my brother and my mother, he asked me about my daily life. We talked, we cried, we caught up and then we said goodbye. With his number well stored, I replaced the shoe box where I had found it. I do not remember if it was a few days, weeks or months later, when I went back to look for the shoe box to get the number and call it back but it was gone.
I searched frantically for the entire room, but the small piece of worn and frayed paper had disappeared, as if I had been expected to call her only once to answer her prayer. Miss Clarence’s kindness saved my life and I think that’s the power of kindness. Whether it translates into a small action (offering a smile to a stranger, opening a door or lifting something that fell) or a larger action (conspiring to save children’s lives), kindness is a force that can affect and change lives. In fact, random actions of kindness have the power to change the world.