The salesman was having a particularly good month. In addition to receiving a healthy commission, the company had been running a contest and he was the proud owner of a new state-of-the-art clothes washer.
This caused a slight but happy problem. At his wife's instance they had purchased a new washing machine only two years ago. He now had to find a way to dispose of a very serviceable washing machine in very good condition. Sure, he could put an ad in the paper and sell it, but selling was what he did all week. Spending a weekend or two waiting for phone calls and rejecting lowball offers sounded too much like work. He and his wife decided instead to sell the washing machine to a used appliance store that offered to pay them fifty dollars for the surplus machine. After all, fifty bucks is fifty bucks.
On his way to the used appliance store, he passed through the part of town filled with low-end businesses and unfortunate families with more gumption than money. He spotted a little girl selling lemonade at a makeshift corner stand. In the front yard, no more than fifty feet away, a watchful mom in her mid thirties folded clothes into neatly arranged baskets. The salesman, with young children of his own, was a sucker for entrepreneurial kids. He stopped to buy a cup of lemonade, and to see what kind of sales pitch she had.
"How much," he asked, leaning his head out of the idling pickup with the soon to be liquidated washing machine in the bed.
"Oh, it's free," said the little girl.
"Free?" echoed the salesman, somewhat shocked. "You can't make any money giving lemonade away."
"I'm not trying to make money, Mister," said the little girl. "We were studying the earthworm in school and learned that the earthworm eats old dead plant stuff and then puts it back into the ground to help flowers grow. Lemons grow free in the backyard, water doesn't cost much, so I made some lemonade to give away to thirsty people. I thought I'd be like the earthworm and make the world better and that made Momma smile and that's good 'cause she was real sad."
She handed the salesman his free cup of lemonade, which he drank quickly, hiding his puckering lips with the back of his hand. It was a bit tart. Lemons and water may be cheap, but sugar obviously wasn't.
"Why is your Momma sad?" queried the salesman.
"Well, she washes cloths for a living and our old washing machine broke last week," answered the little girl. "Now she has to wash cloths in the bathtub and that is very hard. We have a dryer and that works okay but we can't just go out and buy a washing machine."
Suddenly the recovery of fifty dollars for an old washing machine seemed insignificant. Though he wasn't philanthropic by nature, he decided that maybe money was less important than joy.
He helped Momma take out her antique machine and installed his newer washing machine in its stead. He plugged it in and started it up just to make sure, and everything worked just fine. Feeling better about himself than he had in a long time, he decided that from now on he would be like the earthworm and, as best he could, leave the world better than he found it.
As he left, the little girl waved and shouted, "Thank you for helping, Mister."
He began to realize that it was probably the best $50 he would ever spend and that he too wanted to be an earthworm.
The tree house was going to be tough. Anna's Dad had agreed to construct the playhouse when she was only four. He had been far less busy back then. Now that she was a big girl of eight, she was hopeful that Dad would fulfill his promise.
She had asked him just last weekend if they might work on it together. He had sighed, smiled, and, remembering his promise, agreed to start the following weekend.
Tomorrow was Saturday. Dad had worked the previous three Saturdays. There were fewer employees now and Dad had to work more hours just to keep up. Would Dad keep his promise?
Bright and early the next morning, when Anna looked out her bedroom window, there stood Dad with wood, tools and a great attitude. He was ready. Anna threw on her clothes and ran out toward the big tree hovering over the backyard fence.
They agreed that the tree house would be relatively low on the trunk of the tree, just high enough that Anna could see over the top of the fence, but low enough that her dolls would not be afraid to enter. Dad was thinking that even at eight, she was still his little girl. Lower was better.
Anna helped for the first two hours, but, as happens with children, she grew tired of the tedious business of making sure it would not fall. Dad continued working till dark. After Anna went to bed, Dad brought out lights so he could finish the job.
The next morning, Anna again looked out her window. There in the tree, about five feet above ground, was a beautifully constructed tree house. A rope ladder, obviously the entry, hung from its bottom. A rope, with a bucket attached to its end, hung from a window. The bucket was on the ground, ready to be an elevator for dolls and other important stuff. Dad stood next to the tree admiring his work.
Anna ran out the back door, hugged her dad's leg. When he bent down to hug her back, she kissed him on the cheek. She was very happy and so was he.
"It's beautiful, inside and out," said Anna.
"But you haven't seen the inside yet. How do you know it's pretty inside too?" he asked.
"I know it's beautiful inside," Anna said. "You built it and it's full of love."
Sara Tucholsky of Western Oregon University took a mighty cut and lofted her first high school/college homerun over the centerfield fence. She was a senior and it was likely that it would be her last home run as well. She was not a power hitter.
As she rounded first, she realized in her glee that she missed the base. She stopped and turned to tag the bag, so she would not be called out. A sharp pain in her knee brought her to the ground. She crawled back to first, but could not finish the victory trot around the bases.
Her coach called time out. The umpire said that she would have to either make it around all the bases or she would be officially given a single, disqualifying Sara's one and only home run. By rule, if any of Tucholsky's Teammates helped her, she would be called out.
To everyone's surprise, the opponent's first baseman, Mallory Holtman, asked the umpire if the opposing players could assist Tucholsky around the bases. The umpire said there was no rule against it. Holtman, homerun leader in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, and her teammate, shortstop Liz Wallace, carried Tucholsky around the bases, allowing her to touch each base with her uninjured toe, before preceding to the next.
By the time they reached home plate the entire Western Oregon team was in tears, as were most of the spectators in the stands. It cost Central Washington the game and ended their chances of advancing to the playoffs. But, it was the right thing to do.
No one will remember who won the tournament or the conference. Few of us will ever be devoted fans of Central Washington or Western Oregon, but few will forget the sportsmanship, camaraderie amongst competitors or just the good feeling that comes from doing what is right.
My wife, son and I were bouncing along wind roughened waters in a rented power boat on Lake Pleasant near Phoenix. We don't get to see our son as often as we like, as he lives hundreds of miles from home. We rented the boat to have a memorable day, even though the wind was whipping and the water was full of whitecaps. The day would become more memorable than we could possibly imagine.
We noticed a boat floating near shore. We were still hundreds of yards away, but could see the people inside the boat anxiously waving a red flag, normally a warning to other boaters that a water skier is down. They were confused and didn't seem to know how to restart their stalled vessel.
Even at that distance we could see they were frantic. The water was too rough and cold for casual skiers and the boat was too near hidden sand bars for experienced boaters. I pointed our bow toward the becalmed boat and shoved the throttle forward.
As we neared, we could see two men in the water approximately 25 yards from their boat. Both were obviously tired and scared, drifting further and further from their craft. The looks on their faces told us everything we needed to know. They were in serious trouble. The better swimmer of the two was trying to hold the other man's head above water, but he was running on empty. Neither man was wearing safety equipment.
My son, Matt, grabbed two life vests and jumped overboard, delivering life saving equipment to the desperate pair. The man in greatest danger was barely able to hold onto the vest in the frigid water, but hold on he did. We swung the boat around, killed the engine so the propeller would not harm either my son or the men in the water. Matt climbed back into the boat and pulled both of them aboard.
We took them back to their boat, where they safely re-boarded. We shook their hands and left, never knowing who they were or how it all got started. They fired up their engine and made it back to shore. They never even got our son's name and wouldn't know how to thankfully contact him, but in our hearts, we knew that someone's brother or father or son was going to live beyond that day. Shivering all the way back to the docks, that knowledge was Matt's only reward.
No one else saw what Matt did. There were no bands playing or mayors offering keys to the city, nor were any of those a thought in his mind when he jumped into icy water to save two men on the verge of drowning. No one, outside those who read this story, will fathom his desire to help or save others. And he did it without thought for his own safety, without wondering whether or not it was worth his time or effort. He did it with the sole intent of helping someone else. That is what makes a good man.
Like the rest of us, he's made mistakes, but that is not the measure of a man. We all make mistakes. The true measure of human worth is what we do when no one is looking. When surrounded by peers or police, we all toe the line. What we do when only God can see makes us who we really are.
Matt, much to his mother's chagrin, likes motorcycles and spends much of his spare time alternately riding and fixing them. Age and experience will teach him that no one, including him, will remember how fast he rode or how high he jumped, but there are two men, two families, who will never forget him, even if they don't know his name.