Kindness Stories

Le Chambon

There are two things, it has often been said, that human beings cannot gaze at directly without going mad – the glory of God and the darkness of human evil. After years of studying human cruelty, Philip Hallie, professor of philosophy at Wesleyan University and a veteran of World War II, must have felt close to madness. Working on a project on Nazi cruelty, he focused on the medical experiments Nazi doctors conducted on Jewish children in the death camps.

“Across all these studies,” Hallie wrote later, “the pattern of the strong crushing the weak kept repeating itself and repeating itself, so that when I was not bitterly angry, I was bored at the repetitions of the patterns of persecution…. My study of evil incarnate had become a prison whose bars were my bitterness toward the violent, and whose walls were my horrified indifference to slow murder. Between the bars and the walls I revolved like a madman … over the years I had dug myself into Hell.”

During this time Hallie came across a short article about a small town of three thousand in the mountains of southern France, which was the only safe haven for Jews in all of German-occupied Europe. Reading with academic objectivity in his effort to classify types of cruelty and forms of resistance to it, he was about halfway down the third page of the story when he became “annoyed by a strange sensation on my cheeks.” Reaching up to wipe away a piece of dust, he felt tears – “Not one or two drops; my whole cheek was wet.” Those tears, Hallie wrote, were an instinctive “expression of moral praise.”

What Hallie was reading was his introduction to the citizens of Le Chambon and their heroic rescue of more than five thousand Jewish children in the Second World War. Later written up in his modern classic Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, Hallie came to realize the rightness of a summary by one of his readers: “The Holocaust was storm, lightning, thunder, wind, rain, yes. And Le Chambon was the rainbow.” Yes, he concluded, “I realized that for me too the little story of Le Chambon is grander and more beautiful than the bloody war that stopped Hitler.”

What emerges in his story is the strands of the stubborn courage of the Chambonnais. They were Huguenots, French Protestants fired by their faith in Christ and the experience of three hundred years of persecution following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. And they were led, taught, and encouraged by their indomitable pastor, Andre Trocme, and his equally heroic wife, Magda. But what comes across repeatedly is their character and the down-to-earth, no-nonsense quality of their faith.

Many French let themselves be deceived by the infamous “night and fog” propaganda with which the Germans concealed the death camps. But the Chambonnais simply did what had to be done, what they’d been taught to do, what Christ would have expected them to do – they sheltered and saved their neighbors, the Jews, who were in danger.

The evening Pastor Trocme himself was arrested illustrates the whole story. The pastor and his wife had been invited to dinner by church members who, knowing they often forgot such invitations, sent their daughter to remind them. But when she entered the dining room, she saw the police arresting her pastor. So the word flew around the village: Andre Trocme had been arrested.

Typically, however, Magda Trocme invited the two policemen to have dinner with them. Friends were later incredulous and upset with her. “How could you bring yourself to sit down to eat with these men who were there to take your husband away, perhaps to his death? How could you be so forgiving, so decent to them?”

Madame Trocme always gave the same answer: “What are you talking about? It was dinner-time; they were standing in my way; we were all hungry. The food was ready. What do you mean by such foolish words as ‘forgiving’ and ‘decent’?”

Such a response was typical. The Chambonnais shrugged off praise again and again. They would look Hallie in the eye and say, “How can you call us ‘good’? We were doing what had to be done. Things had to be done, that’s all, and we happened to be there to do them. You must understand that it was the most natural thing in the world to help these people.” An outsider’s words of moral praise, Philip Hallie concluded, are “like a slightly uncomfortable wreath laid upon a head by a kind but alien hand.”

Source: Os Guinness. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Kindle edition. Locations 1092-1095).

Shaping a Pulitzer Prize Winner

Geraldine Brooks won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel March. Her love for books was nurtured by a woman named Althea Glasby, a friend of her grandfather’s. One day Geraldine’s grandfather mentioned to Miss Glasby that his little granddaughter loved to read. From that day forward a parcel arrived for Geraldine every birthday and every Christmas. Each parcel contained an expensively bound, lavishly illustrated edition of a book carefully selected for Geraldine. Inscribed in the front cover of each, in flowing script, were these words, “To Geraldine, with love from Althea Glasby”.

Geraldine Brooks never met Althea Glasby. She has no idea what inspired this woman to start sending her the books. But this is what she had to say, “I have no idea what this woman spent so much time and thought on a child she didn’t know… Whatever the reason, I wish I could thank her in person. I wish I could tell her how those books shored up a love for the written word that grew over time into a career and a calling. I would like to give her one of the books I’ve written, nice, hardback first edition. The signature wouldn’t be as fine and fluid as hers, but in my own pedestrian scrawl I would say thank you, for the gifts that helped to lead me to a life in books.”

Source: story details in McCrindle, The Power of Good, Hybrid Publishers 2011

Cory Weisman’s Basket

In February 2012 Cory Weissman led out the men’s basketball team of Gettysburg College for their last game of the season. Four years earlier he had suffered a stroke that left him paralysed on one side. Four years of rehab and he was able to walk with a limp, but was still not able to play competitively. But before his stroke he had been on the varsity team and the Gettysburgh coach wanted to give him a few seconds on court as a senior. So Cory was nominated captain and led out the starting five for what was both his first and last game for Gettysburg, for he was now due to graduate.

Knowing the struggle it was just to be there, the crowd and the players from both teams greeted him with wild applause. The Gettysburg coach gave him a few minutes on court before benching him.

With one minute to go Gettysburg was well ahead and the coach sent Cory back out on court. The Washington coach called time out and instructed his players to foul Cory Weissman. For those who don’t know basketball this was a very generous act, for it meant Cory would be given two shots at the basket.

Cory takes his place at the free throw line, feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. It misses badly. But he has a second and final shot left. Again he feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. This time the ball flies straight through the hoop, and the crowd breaks out in thunderous applause.

The assistant vice president for athletics at Gettysburg, David Wright, later wrote to Washington College: “Your coach, Rob Nugent, along with his … staff and student-athletes, displayed a measure of compassion that I have never witnessed in over 30 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics.”

Source: reported by Frank Record, “When there’s more to winning than winning.” NPR Radio, Feb 22, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas

In September 1995 Caryl and Charlie Harvey answered an early morning knock upon their front door. Two policemen stood there grimly, passing on the terrible news that their 20 year old son Chad had been found murdered.

Grief stricken they went through the motions of the funeral and life. But as Christmas approached Caryl found herself giving vent to her disappointment and anger with God. He had failed her. Why hadn’t he protected her son as she had so often prayed?

In desperation she prayed, “God, if you care about me, I need a miracle. Otherwise, I think I’ll probably die.” She waited, and that Christmas her miracle came.

One night the doorbell rang. When Caryl’s 13 year old daughter answered it she found a gift but no giver, nor any mark identifying the giver. The gift was a treebranch with apples planted in it and a blue plastic nightingale perched on top. Attached was a piece of paper which read:

“On the first day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
We couldn’t find a partridge,
And our pear tree died,
So you have to settle for a
Bluebird in an apple tree.”

Also attached was a bible verse describing the birth of John the Baptist.

The next evening there was another ring of the doorbell and another gift. Though Sarah, Cheryl’s daughter, raced to the door, she wasn’t fast enough to discover who the mystery giver was. This time there was a box containing “turtle” brand lollies and two Dove brand chocolate bars. The note read

“On the second day of Christmas
My true love sent to me
Two turtledoves….”

and included a bible verse about the angel Gabriel appearing to the virgin Mary.

And on it went for the next ten days. The third day were three cornish hens (the French hens had lost their passport the note said); the fourth day there was a cassette tap with songs which had the word “bird” in the title, and a calling card – “four calling birds”; on the fifth day five golden rings were freshly cooked doughnuts; on the sixth day six geese-a-laying were pastel chalk eggs; on the seventh day, seven swans swam across the top of a blue-frosted cake; on the eighth day eight maids-a-milking was a cow candle; on the ninth day nine ladies dancing were 18 gingerbread people decorated as dancers (the Equal Opportunity Employment Act wouldn’t allow them to send just nine ladies); on the tenth day there were ten wooden leaping puppets; on the eleventh day a James Galway tape did for eleven pipers piping; on the twelfth day of Christmas there were twelve drums made out of iced biscuits. And each day there was a Scripture verse preparing them for the approaching holiday.

Caryl found that this was her miracle. For the first time since Chad’s death she had begun looking forward to the next day, wanting to know what would come next.  Thinking of that time she says “My miracle. When I couldn’t talk to God, when I didn’t even want to talk to him, he sent my miracle through someone else. God used earthly hands to send it to me, but his fingerprints were all over it.”

Caryl’s experience reminds us that when people are wounded our action can be a miracle to them, helping them find healing and recovery. Indeed, often like Caryl, they are unable to seek God out, but we can become a vehicle of God’s grace to them


Source: based on Caryl’s story as self reported in Christianity Today Magazine, November/December 2001, Vol. 39, No. 6.


The Red Mahogany Piano

Many years ago, a man named Joe Edwards was a young man in his twenties working as a salesman for a St. Louis piano company. They sold pianos all over the state by advertising in small town newspapers and then, when they had received sufficient replies, they would load their little trucks, drive into the area and sell the pianos to those who had replied.

Every time they would advertise in the cotton country of Southeast Missouri, the company would receive a reply on a postcard which said, in effect, “Please bring me a new piano for my little granddaughter. It must be red mahogany. I can pay $10 a month with my egg money.” The old lady scrawled on and on and on that postcard until she filled it up, then turned it over and even wrote on the front – around and around the edges until there was barely room for the address.

Of course, the company could not sell a new piano for $10 a month. No finance company would carry a contract with payments that small, so they ignored her postcards.

One day, however, Joe Edwards happened to be in that area calling on other replies, and out of curiosity he decided to look the old lady up. He found pretty much what he expected: The old lady lived in a one room sharecroppers cabin in the middle of a cotton field. The cabin had a dirt floor and there were chickens in the house. Obviously, the old lady could not have qualified to purchase anything on credit – no car, no phone, no real job, nothing but a roof over her head and not a very good one at that. Her little granddaughter was about 10, barefoot and wearing a feedsack dress.

Joe explained to the old lady that he could not sell a new piano for $10 a month and that she should stop writing every time she saw the ad. He drove away heartsick, but his advice had no effect – the old lady still sent the same post card every six weeks. Always wanting a new piano, red mahogany, please, and swearing she would never miss a $10 payment. It was sad.

A couple of years later, Joe owned his own piano company, and when he advertised in that area, the postcards started coming to him. For months, he ignored them. But then, one day when Joe was in the area something came over him. He had a red mahogany piano on his little truck. Despite knowing he was about to make a terrible business decision, he delivered the piano to the old lady and told her he would carry the contract himself at $10 a month with no interest, and that would mean 52 payments. He took the new piano in the house and placed it where he thought the roof would be least likely to rain on it. He admonished the old lady and the little girl to try to keep the chickens off of it, and  left, sure he had just thrown away a new piano.

But the payments came in, all 52 of them as agreed – sometimes with coins taped to a 3×5 inch card in the envelope. It was incredible!

Joe put the incident out of his mind for 20 years. Then one day he was in Memphis on other business, and after dinner at the Holiday Inn he went into the lounge. As he was sitting at the bar having an after dinner drink, he heard the most beautiful piano music. He looked around, and there was a lovely young woman playing a very nice grand piano.

Being a pianist of some ability himself, he was stunned by her virtuosity, and moved to a table beside her where he could listen and watch. She smiled at Joe, asked for requests, and when she took a break she sat down at his table.

“Aren’t you the man who sold my grandma a piano a long time ago?”

It didn’t ring a bell, so Joe asked her to explain.

She started to tell him, and suddenly Joe remembered. It was her! It was the little barefoot girl in the feedsack dress!

She told Joe her name was Elise and since her grandmother couldn’t afford to pay for lessons, she had learned to play by listening to the radio. She said she had started to play in church where she and her grandmother had to walk over two miles, and that she had then played in school, had won many awards and a music scholarship. She had married an attorney in Memphis and he had bought her that beautiful grand piano she was playing.

Something else entered Joe’s mind. “Elise,” I asked, “It’s a little dark in here. What colour is that piano?”

“It’s red mahogany,” she said, “Why?”

Source: reported by Joe Edwards.