Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PATTON-PAULSON: No stranger to kindness in Ottawa

By MEAGAN PATTON-PAULSON, Growing Pains | 2/12/2014

I’ve often thought about writing a column highlighting random acts of kindness in our community.

Perusing Facebook, I see examples of it all the time, sprinkled throughout our community like colored sugar on a cupcake. People paying for strangers’ coffee in the drive-thru. A teenage fast food worker offering to pay for an elderly man’s meal because he forgot his wallet. Ottawa is a great place to live, and these unexpected gestures make it that much better.

I’ve often thought about writing a column highlighting random acts of kindness in our community.

Perusing Facebook, I see examples of it all the time, sprinkled throughout our community like colored sugar on a cupcake. People paying for strangers’ coffee in the drive-thru. A teenage fast food worker offering to pay for an elderly man’s meal because he forgot his wallet. Ottawa is a great place to live, and these unexpected gestures make it that much better.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been a party to two acts of kindness I’d like to share.

The first was when I, well, did something rather stupid. I ran out of gas. If my dad would have been there, he would have had his arms folded, condescendingly shaking his head, and saying, “You should never run out of gas. There are gas stations everywhere. When you first see that you are low, stop and fill up.”

Unfortunately, we’ve been having a rash of frigid weather, and I admittedly am a wimp when it comes to the cold. I often don’t have the proper layers or footwear on when I jump in the car for a quick trip, and I kept finding reasons not to go to the gas station. “I can make it until tomorrow,” I thought.

Wrong-O.

I was in the car with my 2-year-old — driving on Main Street in Ottawa — when it happened. I heard and felt the put-put-putting of the engine, and then it just died. I was barely able to turn into a driveway and get my vehicle halfway off Main Street before I completely came to a stop. For a moment, I just sat in the car, frantically weighing my options. I called a few friends, but had no luck in securing a ride back to my home. I thought about walking, but didn’t want to expose my son, who was recovering from an illness, to the elements for that long. I looked up from the wheel, just in time to see someone peeking through a business window. Gathering what little pride I had left, I removed my son from his car seat and headed in to the business, American Family Insurance, 1408 S. Main St.

We walked through the doors, and I immediately started crying. See, anyone who knows me well knows that crying is kind of my go-to way to release any kind of emotion I have — happiness, sadness, anger, or in this case, embarrassment. The receptionist was taken aback. I apologized profusely, and somehow was able to babble through tears and snot that I had run out of gas.

A man emerged from the back of the business, a man I later came to know was Michael Blaue, the insurance agent there. Before I even asked him for help, he started walking out the door, telling me he was going to get a gas can from his house, which, of course, started the waterworks all over again. I couldn’t believe someone whom I didn’t even know would be that generous and kind.

By the time he returned, I had composed myself enough to express my sincere thanks, and then hugged him, which I think surprised him. (Along with the crying, that’s another Italian trait I’ve inherited from my mother.) He put a gallon or so of gas in my vehicle’s tank, and stood out in the cold to make sure I made it on my way safely.

The next act of kindness came in a quite unexpected place — a video game store.

I was at Game Cycle, picking up a game for our 5-year-old son (also sick with the same virus the 2-year-old had), and accidently left my credit card at the store after I paid.

About 3 minutes after I left the store, I received a Facebook notification on my phone from Bryan Turner, an Ottawa High School senior according to the social media site, who notified my oblivious self of the issue, saying he’d hold it for me until I got there.

If we were thinking in terms of stereotypes here, another teenager could have gotten hold of my card and racked up a bunch of charges, or at the very least, just kept it at the store. Bryan took the time to look me up on Facebook, send me a message and keep the card secure for me until I was able to pick it up a short while later.

A little kindness and generosity goes a long way toward brightening a stranger’s day, especially in a dire situation. I can’t thank Blaue and Turner enough for their selfless acts. It’s up to all of us who are on the receiving end of that generosity to pay it forward, and I intend to do just that.

That’s a lesson we can all take to heart.

Meagan Patton-Paulson is Herald Connections Editor. Email her at mpatton@ottawaherald.com

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