"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
October 1, 2012
Giving Secret Gifts
by Kathryn H. Kidd

Yesterday was exciting because I began reading a new book. A new book is always full of promise. Not all those promises are kept, but sometimes I can tell a book is going to keep its promise. This new book is going to do that, I think.

The book is A Secret Gift. The subtitle is, “How One Man’s Kindness — and a Trove of Letters — Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression.” It was written by a man who inherited a suitcase full of ancient letters that had been written to a man named “Mr. B. Virdot.”

There was no “Mr. B. Virdot.” It was a name that the author’s grandfather, Sam Stone, made up from the names of his own daughters, Barbara, Virginia, and Dorothy (Dot). The author remembered his grandfather as a wealthy man, but he wasn’t always wealthy. In fact, things had happened to him that might embitter a lesser man.

At one point in his youth, Sam Stone saved up enough money to buy a new suit. It was given to him in a suitcase, and when he got home he found that the suitcase was empty except for a brick. Instead of letting this experience sour him, he let it inspire him. He eventually went on to own a chain of clothing stores, and he had suits everywhere he looked.

Sam Stone tried to remember the good things that happened to him, but he shoved painful memories aside. He lived by this quotation:

“Each night I bury the record of today, for every morning a soul is born anew, and I do not permit the disappointments of today or yesterday to reflect on the possibilities of tomorrow.”

He wasn’t rich during the Great Depression, but he had more money than others. For some reason he decided that the people of his hometown of Canton, Ohio, needed a little boost right before Christmas in 1933, and he took out an ad that invited people to write to him and tell him their stories. He would pick out the best 75 letters and give each of those families ten dollars, which was about $200 in today’s money.

He received so many letters that he ended up giving five dollars to 150 families that Christmas. The very knowledge that somebody in Canton cared enough to do this during such a horrible time lifted not just those 150 families, but the whole town. Even those families who did not receive the money were inspired by the knowledge that somebody knew their sorrows, and that he cared.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. The rest of the book is going to center on the grandson’s discovery of those letters and what they contained. He is going to interview the survivors of those families and learn how they survived the Great Depression. This should be an informative history book, especially because many of the people who read it have never gone without. The stories in The Secret Gift should remind us to always be grateful for what we have.

But I want to focus today, just for a moment, on how much good one person can do just by empathizing with the problems of others. As we approach the end of the year, with all the joy it can bring, there are so many gifts we can give the people around us. Not all of them are wrapped in shiny paper and tied up in bows. Other gifts that may be even more important are the gifts of sympathy and empathy and a listening ear.

The people who need our help this year may be close friends or mild acquaintances or family members, or they may be people we don’t even like. But, like all of us, they need a kind word, a good example, a warm smile, or some other gentle reminder that they are noticed, and that they are important, and that the people around them care about their welfare.

Whether we are rich or poor, this is a gift we all can give. Here’s hoping that I remember this lesson throughout the upcoming holidays, and that the people around me are better off because they know me. If all of us make the same commitment, this could be a Christmas season we will long remember.

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About Kathryn H. Kidd

Kathryn H. Kidd has been writing fiction, nonfiction, and "anything for money" longer than most of her readers have even been alive. She has something to say on every topic, and the possibility that her opinions may be dead wrong has never stopped her from expressing them at every opportunity.

A native of New Orleans, Kathy grew up in Mandeville, Louisiana. She attended Brigham Young University as a generic Protestant, having left the Episcopal Church when she was eight because that church didn't believe what she did. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a BYU junior, finally overcoming her natural stubbornness because she wanted a patriarchal blessing and couldn't get one unless she was a member of the Church. She was baptized on a Saturday and received her patriarchal blessing two days later.

She married Clark L. Kidd, who appears in her columns as "Fluffy," more than thirty-five years ago. They are the authors of numerous LDS-related books, the most popular of which is A Convert's Guide to Mormon Life.

A former managing editor for Meridian Magazine, Kathy moderated a weekly column ("Circle of Sisters") for Meridian until she was derailed by illness in December of 2012. However, her biggest claim to fame is that she co-authored Lovelock with Orson Scott Card. Lovelock has been translated into Spanish and Polish, which would be a little more gratifying than it actually is if Kathy had been referred to by her real name and not "Kathryn Kerr" on the cover of the Polish version.

Kathy has her own website, www.planetkathy.com, where she hopes to get back to writing a weekday blog once she recovers from being dysfunctional. Her entries recount her adventures and misadventures with Fluffy, who heroically allows himself to be used as fodder for her columns at every possible opportunity.

Kathy spent seven years as a teacher of the Young Women in her ward, until she was recently released. She has not yet gotten used to interacting with the adults, and suspects it may take another seven years. A long-time home teacher with her husband, Clark, they have home taught the same family since 1988. The two of them have been temple workers since 1995, serving in the Washington D.C. Temple.

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