Originally published Thursday, February 28, 2008

Restoring faith… one person at a time.

Sarah in Hawai’i when mom visited for a conference in January ’08.

It was a 21st birthday gift in September to daughter Sarah who had been away from home longer than usual because she had spent the entire summer away at college in order to make up a class. Disappointed with the results of her summer sacrifices, she then went through the difficult re-assessment of her personal goals, only to come through with a more positive goal, one that may prove truer to her nature… one that combined her love of nature and marine biology with her inclinations towards art and photography. The words engraved on the back of the shiny black iPod were meant to encourage our daughter and let her know we supported her efforts, even as her goals changed.

Sarah, at the University of Hawai’i/Manoa in February ‘05, before starting classes in August ‘05.

But as she made her way on the long journey for Christmas break from the University of Hawai’i in Honolulu to her family home in Grand Blanc, Michigan, Sarah suffered another disappointment. Her long flight from LA to Atlanta where she would be picking up the connection to Detroit and Flint was delayed and by the time she eventually arrived, she had already missed her next flight. Dazed from the red-eye overnight trip, she rushed off the airplane to determine her next flight, running from one end of the terminal to the other. But after she had solved her flight problems, and prepared to settle into her seat at the gate awaiting their departure, her heart stopped in deep disappointment. Her precious gift from mom and dad, and the special words of encouragement engraved upon it, had been accidentally left behind in the seat pocket of her last flight in her haste to get to her next flight. 

Panicked, she called mom in Michigan. “Can you call Delta to report this? Maybe they can get it off the flight at its next stop? Or maybe someone from the cleaning crew would find it?” She was devastated. As I tried not to add to her pain, I just listened quietly trying to find the right words to console her disappointment. It wasn’t so much that she’d lost the iPod. But she felt she had let us down, and lost her self-confidence, as well.

Calling the Atlanta “lost & found” office for Delta turned out to be an exercise in frustration and anger. After providing detailed information to the woman at the other end of the telephone, I requested some kind of confirmation record of my report and was coldly told “we don’t DO that!” Further, she went on to tell me that taking my report of a lost item was simply a “courtesy” and that I shouldn’t expect to hear from them. Taken aback, I insisted that they must keep some kind of record of my call and asked for more information. After all, I explained, here I had just given them a very detailed description of where to find an expensive electronic item on an airplane. Had I just lead them to a free Christmas present for one of their staff?

And then there was that curious issue in the back of my mind regarding “security”. Here I had just told the woman that my daughter had left behind a bit of sophisticated electronics on an airplane and, with all kinds of threats in the name of “national security” to destroy luggage left behind in an airport terminal, it seemed rather odd that she would blithely dismiss my call as virtually irrelevant.

So I hung up the phone and awaited Sarah’s next call when she would arrive in Detroit before her last hop to Flint when I would give her the last bit of bad news. 

Christmas was rather melancholy anyway. Without her new iPod, we had already cut way back on other Christmas presents, she rightfully agreed that a replacement was not in order. She didn’t trust herself anymore and I was sad to see her punish herself too hard for what was human error. For the long flight back to school, I loaned her an older iPod mini that I used for working in the garden.

But just a few weeks later in January, some news arrived. Sarah was contacted by a young woman who said she had her iPod and wanted to return it! She had been on a flight from Boston and, once she landed in LAX, she called both airports to report it being found. Apparently both airports either ignored her attempts to return the item or made no connection to our report in Atlanta. But fortunately, Laina (as we soon learned her name) wouldn’t be deterred. Later, after finally reaching Sarah and arranging for its shipping, she (Laina) would write to me:

  • It was no problem sending Sarah’s iPod back. I would have wanted someone to do the same for me and after reading the inscription I knew it was very special to both her and you, her parents. Such a nice sentiment. 🙂

Finally the day came and the wayward iPod arrived back in Hawai’i to Sarah. So thrilled with the selflessness of the respondent, Sarah sent a thank you note, and I set about putting together a gift of goodies to show our appreciation and, of course, reimbursement for her costs to ship the item FedEx to Hawai’i! And even upon receipt of that gift, Laina, whose job is related to an art museum in Santa Barbara, sent a very gracious counter Thank You with an invitation for a behind-the-scenes tour of her museum.

It seems that in this day and age of an American culture of selfishness, greed, self-centered “me-first”, “too-bad-for-you” values, here was a young woman who exhibited all the fine qualities of a selfless, sensitive and caring human being. She reached out across the miles to a complete stranger, empathizing with the other through the simple words engraved on the back of a music player… words inspired by Joseph Campbell, and shared as encouragement to a struggling college student… 

  • “Follow your bliss… with love always, mom & dad”


To Laina: Thank you once again… for restoring our faith in our fellow human beings!



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