Hearts at Work
By Jim Tipton

     (Ed. Note: Jim’s writing has been published in such prestigious magazines as Esquire, The Nation, The American Literary Review and The Greenboro Review. His most recent collection of poems, Letters From a Stranger, with a Foreword by world-famous author Isabel Allende [Conundrum Press, 1998] won the 1999 State of Colorado Book Award in Poetry. The Ojo is indeed fortunate to have a writer of Jim’s caliber join our roster of monthly columnists.)
     “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” So writes Aesop, a man who in all probability was a Greek slave, who lived approximately 620 to 560 B.C. “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” But as my Quaker forbearers would say, the profession of a thing is much easier than the practice of it.
     This column, which will generally appear monthly in El Ojo del Lago, will be about its title: “Hearts at Work.” Each month I will examine a single idea, perhaps offer ways to put it into practice, perhaps give examples, perhaps suggest where to go for more information. And who knows, I may even ramble a bit about interesting and somehow related things. But...back to Aesop...
     Although we know almost nothing about him, the name Aesop comes down to us as a creator of “fables,” of marvelous little stories that generally use animals to make a moral point. Two familiar ones are: “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” There is a collection on-line of 656 fables attributed to Aesop—go to www.AesopFables.com—many of which are translations by Ambrose Bierce (who became part of Mexican history when he crossed the border in 1914 to find and interview Pancho Villa and who was never seen again, although speculations continue to entertain us in the form of such works as Carlos Fuentes, El Gringo Viejo [1985], made into the movie...The Old Gringo [1989] starring Jimmy Smits and Gregory Peck.)
     Just as Bierce enjoyed summarizing human frailties in a few words (The Devil’s Dictionary [1911], which is still in print, being the best example), Aesop enjoyed offering simple maxims by which to live. From his tale, “The Lion and the Mouse,” comes “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
     A couple of years ago, a minister friend named Allen Simons, in Fruita, Colorado, suggested in one of his sermons that the following week we think about those people who had been somehow important to us when we were young...particularly people we have not been in contact with for many years. Then, should they still be alive, we were to write them a note of thanks for what they did for us in our lives.
     I thought of Art Gorsuch, a wonderful man, now 95 years old, who until age 90 actually sang as a solo “O Holy Night” each Christmas Eve at our church in Ashland, Ohio. When I was a boy, Art had a garden on our property out behind our house...this was in those years after World War II, when the “Victory Garden” idea was still a reality for many people. Art always went out of his way to talk to me and to my sisters as if we were actually important human beings worth giving attention to.
     I wrote Art a letter telling him how important he had been to me. Although I did not hear from him, I felt good about sending him the letter. A few months later my sister Nancy said Art mentioned he wanted to see me when I was back home visiting. Well, my beloved mother passed away two months ago, and there at the funeral, helped down the aisle but still walking, was Art Gorsuch. After saying some kind words to me about my mother, he looked up at me with his beautiful old face and said, “And thanks for writing to me.”
     For many years, my family in Ohio had a close friend named Stan. He was a sweet and gentle man, a physician who had served his fellow creatures for decades with dignity and love. In his seventies he contracted lymphoma, a type of cancer generally slow-growing, but for all of us who loved Stan, it grew much too quickly, and far too soon Stan began declining rapidly. My sister Nancy, along with her husband Bob, had been very close to Stan and his wife and his family. During his last two years, Nancy searched almost weekly for cards to send to Stan...sometimes humorous, sometimes reflective or philosophical, and she would inscribe each card with a short and personal note.
     Stan was finally moved to hospice care and to a little room in a hospital wing set aside for the dying. Those last two weeks he had little need for “things” aside from a few toiletries, two or three beloved books and a few pictures. My sister visited Stan almost every day, sometimes only for a few minutes, sometimes for an hour or so. The day before he passed on, he asked her to get a blanket for him out of the tiny closet. She went to the closet, found the blanket, and just happened to glance up to the top shelf. There was a shoebox, and inside was something precious he had brought with him for his last days on earth. On the end of the box, written in bold magic marker, were these words: “CARDS FROM NANCY.”