It was an early evening in 2010 in Oklahoma, and I was sitting in a PalTalk chatroom offering advice to someone. My heart really wasn’t into it, but I seemed to be the only person in the small room willing to help the gentleman with practical information on how he might turn his life around. His heart did not seem into the exchange either, and he left abruptly without a thanks. I had been getting increasingly discouraged with my online interactions at the time, because as one who has always strived to serve others, it just seemed most people were not interested in giving up the investment in their suffering.
I sat in the chatroom moving my mouse towards the ‘X’ that would close the room so I could turn the computer off and go watch television, when a woman typed in a question that caught my eye. “Corvus, did you used to host a chatroom on MSN years ago?” I typed back in ‘yes’. She then asked “Did you go by the nic there ‘The Smoking Cell’?” I replied ‘yes, and that was the name of the chatroom, too’. She typed “oh my God, I have been hoping for 6 years that I would run into you again so I could thank you!”
It seemed that at the time, back in 2002, Beth’s life was at an impasse. Her marraige was close to dissolving. Her children had no respect for her, and were often hurtful and dismissive. She was a stay at home mom, so as her purpose in life was becoming a nightmare she had been contemplating suicide when one night she stumbled into my old chatroom, The Smoking Cell. She had very few close friends in her life, so she was seeking answers online in the MSN chat communities. No one seemed to care, and what advice was offered was generic and not specific to her circumstances.
I was brand new at computers and chatrooms at the time, and hungry to serve, so she coming into my room with real issues was like a doctor getting one of his first patients. I gave her my undivided attention and offered her the most practical advice I could with my limited awareness of the time. This was not weeks or months or years of intensive one-on-one therapy sessions – this was a few hours of a few evenings caring enough about another human being to actually have open ears and an open heart. I to this day do not remember this woman, nor the advice that I had given her. I have only her word that the exchange ever took place. But I carry her story in my heart now as a reminder of what love can accomplish.
She said the primary advice I gave her was she needed to fix herself first, then see if the marraige was something she still wanted to salvage. She had spent the next year joining the local gym and losing 50 pounds, changed over to a vegetarian diet, let go of all negative friends in her life, and started to volunteer at her church. She gravitated to any of the older women at the church that seemed to have a positive outlook and sought their mentorship.
Several years later Beth was seen as a spiritual leader in her church. She had changed her life dramatically, helped her husband and children find meaning, healthy choices, and reinvented love for her own family. And now she was mentoring other women of the congregation on how they could create lasting positive change in their lives. She was using the advice I had given her to change even more lives. Those women were taking the advice Beth was giving them, and affecting their own families and circles of friends, and so on.
It is not that the words I spoke those evenings were so powerful or earth shattering. Any decent bookstore would have a whole section devoted to the same sort of advice and self-help philosophy. It was the timing that made the exchange between Beth and I so meaningful. She had the ears to hear me. It just happened to be me that night. Any other person, in any other room, had they just opened their heart a little, would have had the same affect on Beth.
I accepted her thanks for being the one who cared enough to listen and offer help, but I commended her for being the one that had the focus and creative drive to make the changes, and to then take those positive changes and inject them into her church community, and the greater community beyond. After she shared her story with me and the room I remarked that it was strange how the ripples of an act of kindness could find their way back to me some 9 years later by lifting my spirits when I was down.
You just never know where your actions will end up. A few nights being a friend to one stranger has ended up helping potentially hundreds of people. I am humbled not for the first time at the awesome responsibility we have as creators and servants.