Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pay It Forward

I live near Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy. Because life for students at the Academy is intense, especially during the highly restrictive plebe (or freshman) year, area residents are invited to become “sponsor families,” essentially providing these often shell-shocked teens with a place they can go on their rare liberty days to relax, watch TV, veg out.

My husband and I volunteered for the Naval Academy’s sponsor program because, when we were new college grads, we traveled to Japan to study, teach English and experience living abroad. Our home in Tokyo was a rented room in a bare bones boarding house. Since we had no heat, hot water, kitchen or bath, we ate out for every meal and showered at a public bath house. We survived and thrived in Japan because we were befriended by our neighbors, the Kobayashis.

Mr. and Mrs. Kobayashi, and their college-age son and daughter, became our unofficial “sponsor family.” We spent countless hours at their elegant, modern home. When I had a terrible tooth ache, they took me to their dentist. When I had the flu, they took me to their doctor and moved me into their house while I convalesced. (Japan has national health care, and even though as a foreigner I wasn’t covered, the doctor and dentist charged me as if I had Japanese insurance. Hence I paid next to nothing, including for a root canal and fillings that dental specialists in the U.S. praised as being magnificently done.)

Two decades later, Brian and I are still in touch with the Kobayashis. Fearing that we were at our Manhattan jobs on September 11, 2001, they were among the first to call to ensure we were safe.

Having been the beneficiaries of such great kindness when we were far from home, Brian and I wanted to—and in many ways felt obligated to—provide the same kindness to others in need of a home away from home.

Our midshipmen, as Naval Academy students are called, are the older brothers our son doesn’t have. One accompanied our twins to their Girl Scout father-daughter dance when Brian was out of town. At commencement this past May, we were proud of our two graduates, both of whom lived with us for a time before heading to medical school and flight school.

The thank you note left by the grad who departed last week confirmed to me that a kindness shown one person does lead to kindness toward another. “Thank you for taking me in, and treating me like part of your family,” he wrote in his sign-off. “I hope I can repay your hospitality in kind to someone else down the road.”

Mr. and Mrs. Kobayashi's good deed lives on.

Pictured: Me and Mrs. Kobayashi, my Japanese mom, in her Tokyo living room in 19_ _. Well, the exact year doesn't matter. To reveal it would make me feel older than I already do.


Miranda said...

What a great example!

Stephanie said...

I love that! I often wonder what our world would be like if everyone paid it forward.


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