Opinion

A meal and a thank you, many years later

dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

On Thursday my family and the staff of The Morehead Inn will host the children of Alexander Youth Network for Thanksgiving lunch. This is the 24th year we’ve been fortunate enough to share this day with these special children and to support this special place.

When I was 9 years old, my mother placed me with what was then called Alexander Children’s Home. It took a lot of courage for her to do that, but in the middle of a chaotic childhood, I was in desperate need of a place to be safe and to heal. I’m not sure how my mom found Alexander, but I sure am grateful she did. In so many ways the people there saved my life.

What I’ve always recalled about my time there was how many children either couldn’t go home or simply didn’t have a home to go to — especially during the holidays. I believe there is a responsibility that comes with privilege, so as soon as I started my business in 1995 I reached out and offered to host a holiday lunch for children and staff who didn’t have a place to go. Each successive year has been special in its own way, but over time I sort of forgot just how impactful this day can be for the kids. I suspect in everyone’s life, at some point, our inner fire goes out. Then it bursts into flame by an encounter with another person.

So imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago a young lady named Kaitlyn walked in and introduced herself. She said I likely wouldn’t remember her from years ago, but she was one of the Alexander children who joined us for Thanksgiving and Christmas lunch in 2001. Now 27, she had compiled a list of people who made a difference in her life and was on a mission to thank them. As it turns out, I was on the list, and she had come from Iredell County just to let me know.

She remembered she felt like a princess; arriving at a mansion, with white tablecloths, silver, china, and being served by adults. She recalled the event in amazing detail. And yet that’s not why she wanted to express gratitude. Of all the things, what Kaitlyn really wanted to thank me for was telling her how pretty she looked that day. She revealed that it’s the first memory she has of anyone telling her she’s pretty. And it really mattered because she admitted she had dressed up for the event, in the one dress she had. She also confessed that she didn’t feel pretty, because she had been cutting herself and she was hiding cut marks under her long sleeves. And yet she said, of all the girls at lunch, she was the one I told was pretty.

So Kaitlyn found me after all those years to express gratitude. And yet she gave me the greatest gift of all. She reminded me of the immense capacity I have, that each of us has, to simply be kind and do good. It costs nothing, and each of us possesses an inexhaustible ability to do it. We should all be thankful for those people, like Kaitlyn, who rekindle our inner spirit.

Of all I’m thankful for this holiday season, I’m thankful for having enough. Everything beyond enough, I have the privilege to share. And in sharing I get to meet pretty girls like Kaitlyn, who grow to be strong, beautiful women. I am gifted to give.

Email: billy@billymaddalon.com
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