by Donald L. Rosenkjar
It was Christmastime at Gallaudet University in Washington DC, the world’s only liberal arts university for the deaf. The campus was nearly deserted, so I was almost alone. It was my first Christmas away from my family — with no Christmas tree, no burning fireplace, no fabulous dinner, no laughter, no gifts to open. I just could not afford to fly home, and felt awfully sorry for myself.
On one gloomy, rainy afternoon, feeling dejected, I dragged myself to a nearby post office to send a package home. I normally wear a hearing aid from early in the morning until bedtime in the evening. That day, I did not want to hear anything, so I left my hearing aid in my dormitory room and rendered myself stone deaf.
The weather was plain miserable. Inside the post office, each window had a line of at least a dozen people. I was standing in one of the lines with all the other faceless customers when the door swung open. In came in a boy, perhaps 12 years old, soaking wet. He was selling copies of the Washington Post for ten cents each. There was nothing else for me to look at, so I watched him.
He went up to each person and offered a newspaper for sale. Person after person, line after line, no one would buy. Most people pretended not to notice him. Finally, he came up to me. I told him that I didn’t need the paper because my college reading room was supplied with newspapers. He left me and went on to other people.
No one bought any of his newspapers, and I started to feel some sort of pain about him. I searched my pocket and found a quarter. I motioned for him to come over and gave him my quarter. He got fifteen cents change for me, and I told him to keep it. He handed me the paper, and I told him that I didn’t need it. He looked at me, puzzled, then started shouting words that I could not hear or understand.
Suddenly, all the unknown people in the post office turned in my direction, and they all smiled. It was an unexpected and astonishing moment. Whatever he said must have been wonderful.
He had no way to know what effect his shouted thanks would have on me; no way to know my situation that Christmas. Whoever he was, he had a choice, and he chose to thank me in a way that altered my holiday completely. I’ll never forget his incredible thank you, for it changed an otherwise lonely Christmas into one of my finest.