By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Zenaida Serrano
Like most new mommies, Diane Wakabayashi's first few weeks of parenthood were chaotic, to say the least. She was always exhausted, learning new responsibilities and adjusting to late nights and early mornings with her baby boy.
One day, Wakabayashi's good friend, Jeri Tokumoto, paid a visit and out of the blue, brought dinner for Wakabayashi and her husband.
"That was like a slice of heaven," said Wakabayashi, a middle-school teacher.
The busy mom said the seemingly simple gesture meant the world to her. "I know it seems like it was something small, but it was something big for us," said the Pearl City resident, 29.
Wakabayashi was among dozens of readers who wrote to us with stories to inspire others for Random Acts of Kindness Week, which runs today through Feb. 19. We asked readers to share their stories about caring acts that have touched their lives.
"The week's purpose is to raise awareness about kindness and to invite people to give and receive kindness daily," according to the Web site of the the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, the organization behind the event.
One year for Random Acts of Kindness Week, retired educator Carol Sullivan of Hawai'i Kai made 300 lei for strangers.
"Random Act of Kindness? We in Hawai'i call it 'Aloha,'" said Sullivan, 61, one of the original Random Acts of Kindness coordinators in Hawai'i. ... "I believe we shouldn't restrict random acts of kindness to Random Acts of Kindness Week. It could be practiced everyday, everywhere with everyone in every way."
For Rick Armsby, kindness came in the form of a stranger who helped him save his Kahalu'u home from a fire more than 30 years ago.
As Armsby stood on his roof hosing the approaching flames, a "man who said he was from La'ie and had been driving by on Kam Highway and had seen the flames, appeared on my roof beside me," Armsby said. "He had already connected our second hose to another hose bib and helped me double our efforts to save my home."
When the fire department arrived, the man disappeared as quickly as he had appeared, never identifying himself or asking for anything in return, Armsby said.
"Our house was completely saved with only minor damage to some trees, but it could have easily burned to the ground without the selfless help of this nameless stranger," recalled Armsby, 64, a clinical psychologist.
Armsby's story is just one of many we received praising compassionate acts, big and small.
So read on we're hoping these gems of generosity inspire you to pass the kindness along this week, and every day afterward.
LEAVING AN IMPRESSION
Quiet contributions can go a long way. Just ask Elizabeth Kent, an administrator who often attends meetings at the University of Hawai'i. One of the highlights of her frequent visits is a stop at one of the women's restrooms in the student services center.
"There is a woman who works (there). I don't know her name. She makes beautiful flower arrangements that she puts in the restrooms," said Kent, 47, of Kailua.
It's "clear that she puts a lot of thought and time into the arrangements," she said. "It is so kind of her to put them in a public place, and not an expected place. ... She brings a little bit of good cheer to the lives of people that she does not even know."
An unexpected gesture by a New Jersey couple had Ko Olina resident Joan M. Davidson in tears two weeks ago.
The tourists had lunch at a Wahiawa restaurant, Jimmy's Lakeside Bakery Cafe, owned by Davidson's son. Davidson, 65, a retired nurse, was helping out at her son's eatery that day.
"As they were about to leave, (the man) returned to the register area, handed me his credit card and asked me to charge another very generous sum to his account," Davidson e-mailed. "He said to feed as many of our current guests as the money would pay for.
"These customers, our usual patrons, were all members of the military stationed at Schofield Barracks and Wheeler (Army Airfield). We feed these people ... daily and although we never take them for granted, we are very used to a sea of camouflage each lunchtime.
"(The couple was) obviously moved by the presence of so many members of the armed services," Davidson said. "The troops were also moved by the generosity of these strangers."
KNOWING WHAT TO SAY
Sometimes all it takes to touch someone is knowing exactly what to say at exactly the right time.
Ophthalmologist Joyce Cassen Levey found kindness in normalcy on the worst day of her life shortly after her 19-year-old son's body was found. Her son, Daniel, had been hiking in the Ko'olau summit area when he fell to his death.
"I was terribly distraught and called my office to let the staff know about the loss," e-mailed the Hawai'i Kai resident, 54. "Mahea (Koma), the office manager, asked what I wanted to do with the office schedule: Should she notify patients to come in another day?"
"Mahea treated the situation straightforwardly, and by so doing, pulled me back to reality on that day," Cassen Levey said. "It encouraged me to push forward."
For Carolyn Okinaga of Wai'alae Iki, five simple words from a boy in her second grade class made her feel like a princess for a day something she still fondly remembers decades later.
Okinaga, 64, doesn't hesitate to admit she was a pudgy child.
"However, all the 'Fat Pig' and 'Cow Face' taunts were forgotten when I was chosen to co-star in the second-grade Halloween play to be presented in front of the whole school," Okinaga recalled.
For the play, Okinaga's older sister made her a baby-blue dress that made her beam with pride. On the day of the play, Okinaga wore her new dress to school.
"When I walked into the classroom, only Leo was there," Okinaga e-mailed. "As usual, his head was buried in a book."
So Okinaga sat at her desk, and eagerly waited for someone to notice her new dress.
"Suddenly, a real princess in pink ruffles and glittery shoes bounced into the room," Okinaga wrote. "It was Karen, the other co-star of the Halloween play. All the girls gushed around her, admiring her dress and telling her how pretty she looked."
Okinaga tried to hide her tears.
"Suddenly, I felt a tap on the shoulder and heard a soft voice: 'No cry. Your dress nice.' It was Leo, Leo who hardly ever said a word to anybody. He understood," Okinaga wrote. ... "I learned a valuable lesson that day: A kind word can make the sun shine again."
MORE ACTS OF KINDNESS
Dozens of readers wrote to us with stories to inspire others for Random Acts of Kindness Week, which runs today through Feb. 19. We asked them to share their stories about caring acts big and small that have touched their lives or the lives of others. Here are a few:It was the day before Christmas Eve. My sister and I were driving home on the H-1 Freeway, going 'ewa bound. A car drives past us, with the driver yelling something to my sister, who was driving. Of course, she ignores it. Then, another car drives by again with someone yelling something to her. This time, she rolls down her window to catch what the woman is saying. "You have a flat tire!" she yells. Panicked, my sister pulls over to the shoulder lane. She doesn't know how to change a tire and neither of us have AAA or any type of roadside assistance service. As we debate who to call, out of nowhere a police officer appears at my window, knocking. After explaining that we don't have AAA and that there was no one we could call who could help us, he kindly tells us he will change our tire, but if there's an emergency, he would have to go. We both were relived, but were praying that there wasn't going to be an emergency for him to leave us. Thankfully, there weren't any emergencies. He helped us look for the spare tire; got down on his hands and knees to jack up my van to replace the flat; and even escorted us off the shoulder lane to get back on the freeway. He went over and beyond his call of duty. Dara Y. Fukuhara, 'Aiea
Our dear neighbor has walked the beaches of the Diamond Head area for years pre-dawn, picking up huge quantities of trash. He would not only put the trash in bags, then in the few cans provided, but also help the collectors carry the big bags up the cliff. Only the trash collectors have ever been aware of his daily community service. Jack and Eulalia Luckett, Waikiki
In August last year I was excited to be able to throw together a yakudoshi party for my husband. I had everything lined up. The invitations went out, the food was ordered and there were just a few last minute details to tend to. The week before the party I was getting ready to go out and grab a few items I needed for the party, when all of a sudden a huge amount of pain came over me. Having a high tolerance for pain, I was freaked out a little, so I called my doctor, who scheduled me for a CAT scan because even the slightest touch would have me on the ceiling. After the scan was done, the doctor came in and told me that I had appendicitis and that I was scheduled for surgery later on that night. Talk about no longer being in control of anything. Two days in the hospital and in the most pain I ever felt, I was sick worried about the party that was six days away. Not wanting to reschedule the people, food and the entire party, my uncle asked me if I still wanted to have the party. When I told him yes, all I remember him saying was, "OK, don't worry about it." My uncle and my good friend were my saviors. They saw to it that all the last minute details were taken care of setting up the tents, tables and chairs for the more than 150 guests who were expected to show up. Together, my uncle and two friends picked up the food, ran the kitchen and cleaned up afterward. The party was a huge success. I'm so glad to know when I needed it the most, my family and friends were there to help me. Angel Akagi, Wahiawa
In March last year, my husband Mark underwent a quintuple bypass surgery. Upon his return home from the hospital, I was his caregiver for several weeks. In true "Hawaiian style," family and neighbors brought food and offered their assistance. My husband was barely able to walk or get around, and he was probably at the worst part of his recovery when my car gave trouble with a weak battery. I wasn't sure how to get the car to the repair shop because I didn't want to leave Mark home alone. Also, other family members we would normally call were not available. And we had a doctor's appointment the following day, so I was concerned. I happened to mention this dilemma to an inquiring neighbor who is a co-worker. Within 15 minutes, she and her husband were at our door and they drove my car to Sears after they jumped the battery with their truck. They stayed at Sears for several hours until the repairmen were able to work on our car. They paid for the new battery on their own and then returned the car to us by 9 p.m., all fixed up. (They refused our payment for the battery, but after much insistence on our part, we did reimburse them for all their trouble.) My husband was and is so grateful for the kind gesture, and to this day, refers to them as "angels" for coming to our aid. They didn't really know Mark, but that didn't stop them from helping us at that moment when we didn't have a clue how we were going to deal with the problem. They truly stepped up to the plate so willingly and with such enthusiasm. Flo Johnasen, Halawa Heights
When I was 16, I flew back to New Hampshire to spend the summer with my father's side of the family. While I was there, I asked my cousin, Jeff, to take me to see my grandfather's grave so that I could pay my respects. We had the hardest time finding it under all the overgrown grass, and when we finally did find it, I broke down in tears to see that my grandfather's grave had been so neglected over the years. Taking this experience back to my aunt, whom I was staying with at the time, we decided to go back together the next day to clean up his grave. When we returned in the morning, I had a hard time finding the grave yet again, but this time it was because it was so unrecognizable. The head stone had been scrubbed to a clean shine, the weeds had been pulled and beautiful potted plants rested under my grandfather's name. In one of the plants, I found a little note bearing a sweet poem I had read somewhere before: Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the mountain's rim covered with snow, I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle Autumn rain. When you awaken in the morning's hush, I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight, I am the star that shines at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there, I did not die. Years later, I found out that my cousin, Jeff, had gone back to my grandfather's grave in the dark of night to clean it up before we arrived the next day. To this day, this gesture is one of the sweetest, most cherished acts of kindness and love I have ever experienced. Carolyn Jones, Waipahu
My 86-year-old mother and I are frequent visitors to Hawai'i. Living in Seattle, lately most noted for its rain, we are able to escape the dreary overcast winters. Hawai'i not only welcomes us with its warm climate, but also with with the warmth of its residents. We are overwhelmed with acts of generosity, kindness and graciousness. For example, we were at Kunio's restaurant one day arguing over who was going to pay for dinner. My mother, who doesn't hear well, said in a loud voice, "I will pay!" I in return, in a louder voice, said, "I will pay for dinner!" And so it continued back and forth. When it was time to pay, we discovered that someone else had paid the bill. Alyce Arai, Seattle
I've been living in Hawai'i for a little more than a year, far away from my home of ten years in Alexandria, Va. I haven't been back east to visit my family or friends since I came here. A few of them came to visit me, but I have really missed everyone tremendously. One person I haven't seen since I moved in December 2004 was my father. On Jan. 26, I received the worst phone call of my life. My father had passed away. That same day, I left on a flight to Boston, where I was born and raised, and where my father has always lived. This has been the saddest time of my life. A few of my great friends in Virginia did the most kind and generous thing for me during my visit to the east coast. They all got together and pitched in for a plane ticket so I could fly from Massachusetts to Virginia and see them for a few days. Being with them helped me through this difficult time. I am grateful to have them in my life. This act of kindness made me realize what good, caring friends I have and I will never forget it. Lori Polonsky, Honolulu
I was born and raised in Saigon, South Vietnam, on April 19, 1981. My birthday has never been that important to me, but this coming 50th birthday is a very different one. It will mark the 25th anniversary of the day a complete stranger gave me a second chance of life in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. My parents, who were illiterate peasants from North Vietnam, went South in the 1940's to work in the rubber plantation. Slowly, with sheer determination and hard work, they built a highly prosperous and successful retail and wholesale restaurant supplies business. My mom, who remained a simple person until the last day of her life, taught me by examples of kindness through actions. She had taken so many strangers from the street into our home, fed them and gave them some money to continue their journeys. The Vietnam war ended in 1975, a few weeks after I turned 19. We lost not just the war, but our way of life and everything that my parents built with 30 years of sheer hard work. Life without freedom had become a Big Brother-ish nightmare that we decided we had to either risk death by escaping on the boat or die a little every day from the inside. I'd rather choose the first option after my whole family (except my parents, who would never leave ) was imprisoned several times just for trying to escape from Vietnam. On April 13, 1981, I said my last goodbye to my mom, not knowing that was the last time I would ever see her alive again. Together with 103 other boat people, I left Vietnam on a moonless night. We were packed in like canned sardines on a 30-foot, unseaworthy, cricketty fishing boat. The boat motor expired in two days under this load. We had no water, food and the process of a slow death began. The sun was fierce and relentless, and the pitch black night of the ocean was equally brutally cold. Hundreds of boats and ships flying different national flags passed by, some circling around looking at us, then sped off. Not one single vessel stopped to give us even some water. We made a torch out of old tires, flip-flops and rags to attract attention. I still remember vividly how orange the flame was. Somehow, it felt like if it continued to burn, our life would go on. At this point, without any water or sustenance, several people had slowly become delirious and severely weakened. Another five days went by and death inched closer by the minute. I thought to myself, looking up at the night sky glittered with stars like mom's eyes looking at me, "I might have to take my last breath here, mom." It was close to midnight and it was going to be my 25th birthday, April 19, 1981. At least, out here, I was free. Midnight passed, the Pacific Ocean stayed black and the stars were bright. Suddenly something even brighter appeared like in a dream. I heard a huge swooshing noise and saw bright shining lights, rows and rows of them focused on our little sinking boat just like a spot light on a dark stage. Canoe by canoe, we were all taken aboard a West German oil tanker, the Winsertor, on its way to Singapore to deliver its load. We were turned over to the Red Cross at a Malaysian refugee camp called Pulau Bidong. And I turned 25. My parents gave me the first life, but it was the captain and the crew of the Winsertor that gave me the second chance at it. I learned later that public debate in Germany was pretty much against the wave of boat people out of Vietnam at the time. It was sheer kindness from a complete stranger that I am here today to tell the story.
I am in contact with the German embassy to find the captain of the Winsertor to personally thank him for what he did. I came to the United States the same year, and finished my medical school and training 12 years later. I am now with a group called Children of the Forest, a UK-based group that provides free education (and health care from me) for Burmese minority refugee children in Sangklaburi, Thailand. I maintain my private practice in Honolulu and every year, I spend two weeks of vacation to give back some of the largess that I have received. Dr. Tyronne Dang, Honolulu
Pretty much no one likes to stop and help people stranded along the road anymore years of horrible stories have made it almost status-quo that you do not stop on the side of the road to help anyone. One evening I got a call from my best friend, BJ Adkins. By chance she had gone the wrong way coming back over the windward side by completely missing the H-3 turnoff and being forced to come down H-1 and catch Likelike. Much to her surprise there was a woman standing along the road next to a car, jumping up and down. So my friend stopped, got out and went to check what was up. The young woman said she had looked into her rearview mirror and noticed her tail light was loose, so she pulled to the side of the road and jumped out to push it back in. Of course, as she jumped out to push the tail light back in, she realized that she had left her keys in the car with the car running and her cell phone neatly tucked into her purse. After about 20 minutes the young woman had became quite anxious and luckily had started jumping up and down right as my best friend drove by. My friend stopped to let her use her cell to call a friend who had a spare, and then waited almost two hours with the woman until her friends came to give her the spare key. My best friend is just like that. This particular night she had called to cancel dinner with myself and some friends in order to stay with the woman on the road and wait until she was sure she was safe. Emy Alvarez, Kane'ohe
When my beloved mother died unexpectedly, I was bereft with an aching loss. Not long after she departed, my brother-in-law's wife invited me to join her and her own mother at a mother/daughter banquet at her church, an event which, in my grief, I was reluctant to attend. In the end I decided to go because, after all, life does go on. What helped to convince me was that there was such a close relationship between me and my brother-in-law's wife that her mother considered me to be her other daughter, always showering me with great affection. Although the day of the luncheon was more wrenching than I had even imagined it would be, it also turned out to be one of the most rewarding days of my life. After sobbingly enduring endless stories about loving experiences enjoyed by the mothers and daughters in attendance, I considered leaving because my heart was in such tatters. Then through my tearful haze I noticed next to my plate tiny plastic figurines of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse the same miniscule figures that I had once admired years earlier at the home of the mother of my brother-in-law's wife. She had been given those figurines many years ago by someone special in her life, so despite their weathered appearance, they held a very special place in her heart. By silently placing them next to my plate during the first Mother's Day without my own mother, she had silently found a way to make me feel her love and compassion in my time of terrible grief. She didn't know how to put into words what was in her heart, but this small gesture of sacrificing her beloved figurines to bring a measure of comfort to my empty and stricken heart meant more than anything that she could have said or written. Barbara Feather, Honolulu
Reach Zenaida Serrano at firstname.lastname@example.org.