The simple act of answering the phone can be an adventure for a journalist.
Maybe you find a retired English teacher on the other end, wanting to lecture you about the Oxford comma. Or a stranger offering the dirt on a vast government conspiracy and a “guaranteed” Pulitzer Prize.
Or perhaps just some guy so mad at your last piece that he starts belching grievances without even a “Hello, you moron” in greeting.
I braced for that sort of scenario as I picked up the phone the other day. Instead, I found Cindy Hernandez on the line. I had written about her 10 years ago, when she and many other New Orleanians washed up in Charlotte after Hurricane Katrina.
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In October 2005, I found her and her family in a half-empty south Charlotte apartment, waiting on long-overdue relief money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Virtually everything she, her husband and their two small girls had was borrowed, rented or donated.
As badly as they needed help, I was struck by her quiet dignity and grace. In my story, I took note of her reflexive habit of saying “God bless you,” as well as the “small, strained smile she wears like a shield.”
Here she was, a decade later, telling me that she’d put her life back together, thanks to the kind souls here who’d helped her during that dark stretch. She has moved back to New Orleans after 2½ years in Charlotte.
Her marriage has ended, like so many do these days. (She was Cindy Castillo during her time in Charlotte). But she is working again, in medical billing at a doctor’s office, just as she had been before Katrina. She said her daughters, Victoria, 15, and Andrea, 11, are doing great.
Like New Orleans, she survived.
As we chatted, I expected the pleasantries to give way to some specific reason for her call, maybe some connection here in Charlotte she needed my help in making. But she said she just called to say thanks, nothing more. The story I wrote had helped many Good Samaritans find her, and she wanted to mark the storm’s 10th anniversary by letting her “second family” here in Charlotte know she remembered them.
I was surprised, and moved. How many times have you held a door open for someone, only to find yourself muttering about how people don’t say thank you anymore?
So, for someone to reach across 10 years and 700 miles, just to say thank you? That’s not just good manners. That’s good character.
Couldn’t we use more of both these days?
We yell and name-call in our politics. We snark it up on social media and online comment sections. Nobody can get ahead or get help without someone else grousing about how it comes at their expense.
Meanwhile, the economy makes less and less sense, and you can’t even escape to the movies without watching for random homicidal gunmen.
Cindy wanted to thank us. In doing so, she reminds us that, even in an increasingly troubling and complex world, the simplest virtues still matter the most.
For that, we should all thank her.
Eric: 704-358-5145; firstname.lastname@example.org; @Ericfraz on Twitter.
Cindy’s thank-you note
“I want to say thank you to Charlotte for welcoming me in and helping me when I arrived there because of Hurricane Katrina. I want to thank Montclaire Elementary School, Pamela Warren, April Whitton, Mike and Dunia Causin, Sarah Simmons, Tyllie Ray, LaTonya Bell, Peggy and Benny Godwin, and Virginia Santos and family. So forever grateful and lucky to have a second family and home. God bless you all.”