Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Thesis for Christmas

I will never forget the first Christmas James and I spent together as a newly married couple.  We lived in a very small, two bedroom apartment that did not have air conditioning, a dishwasher, or a washer and dryer.  We paid $395 a month for the apartment, which was all we could afford as students at Utah State, working part time.  That Christmas I was working through the winter break at the Merrill Library on Campus.

It was a frigid and gray afternoon, and all the study cubicles were empty.  The only other person in the library was a student employee from the Circulation desk, shelving journals in the stacks.  It had been a quiet shift and since there wasn't much to do or any students to help, I had plenty of time to sit and think.  My thoughts wandered to Christmas, which was only two days away, and to the Relief Society lesson that had been given the week before.  It had been on service.  I felt sad because I hadn't sought after opportunities to serve that holiday season.  I said a silent prayer, asking Heavenly Father to bless me with a service opportunity and to help me recognize it when it came my way.

The phone rang, startling me out of my silence. 

“Serials Department, this is Aleisha. Can I help you?”

“Hello,” a woman with kindness in her voice, said into my ear, “I was wondering if you could help me track down my father's thesis.”

After a title search in the library's online catalog, I located the thesis in the Special Collections department. Materials in Special Collections are never available for check out.  I knew the thesis would be available for “in library use” only, and that a copy of it could be made using the library's Xerox machines.  I explained this to the woman on the phone.

“I'd love to get a copy of it,” she said.  I told her the location of the Merrill Library, as well as where she could go to find the Special Collections department.

She said, “That might be a problem for me because I'm calling from St. Paul, Minnesota.  I wanted to surprise my father by giving him a copy of his thesis for Christmas.  I know this is very last minute, but I didn't have the idea until a couple of days ago when he was talking about it.  He mentioned his copy had been misplaced years ago.  He expressed a desire to read it again.  I thought it would be a nice gift for him for Christmas.”

We talked about what her options were, such as having one of the library staff copy the thesis and then mail it to her.  She would have to be billed for the copying and mailing, and I knew my boss would prefer to handle all of that.  I suggested to the woman—whose name I found out through the course of conversation was Robyn—that she talk to my boss, Emily, after the new year.  Emily was out of the country for the Christmas holiday.  Robyn would have to wait until the new school semester started.

She was silent on the other end of the phone for a few seconds before she said, “What if YOU just copied it and mailed it to me?  You would probably have to send it via FedEx and pay for overnight shipping so it gets to Minnesota in time for Christmas.  Could you do that for me?  Would that be alright?”

I couldn't speak.  I didn't know what to do.  Robyn was asking me to pay for the copying and mailing of her father's thesis out of my own pocket.  Initially, I panicked at what she was asking of me.  I quickly began adding up the expense in my head.  I estimated the total cost to be about twenty dollars, which doesn't seem like a big deal now, but when you are a student working part time for $6.50 an hour, and just barely making enough for the monthly bills... well, twenty dollars is a lot!

Robyn sensed my hesitation and said, “You have my word, I will pay you back."  Then she laughed and said, “I would even be willing to give you a tip for all your help.”

At that moment a strong and distinct feeling washed over me, and I felt peace.  I felt the spirit whisper to my heart, “Aleisha, you prayed for an opportunity to serve someone for Christmas and this is it."  I knew I could trust Robyn, I knew I was supposed to help her, and I knew everything would be okay.  I quickly agreed to help Robyn and even expressed joy over the chance to make a Christmas wish come true.  I told her "no tip required."  I was sincerely happy to serve.

About two weeks later, I received a card from Robyn Hansen.  It read:  “Dear Dear Aleisha— Thank you so much for the work that you did on my behalf and on the behalf of my father...Please accept this reimbursement and “tip” that I promised.  Hope it is helpful to you and your new husband.  Best Wishes, Robyn.”  Enclosed was Robyn's business card stating she was an “Attorney at Law” and a check written out to me for one hundred dollars!  I was completely stunned!

One week after receiving Robyn's card, a letter came for me from her father, Robert L. Wieman.  It read:  “Dear Aleisha, Thank you very much for making a copy of my Master's Thesis, 'A Semi-Quantitative Spectographic Method of Analysis for Copper and Cobalt in Plant Material,” dated 1949, for my daughter just before Christmas.  Somehow, over the years, my copy had been lost.  I was anxious to once again go over the work I had done in the Chemistry Department at Utah State back in 1948 and 1949... My two years spent at Utah State were very pleasant.  I enjoyed your state, your city, and your university.  I was well treated by everyone at the school and in the city.  Thanks again!  I was so pleased that you went the 'extra mile' to help my daughter get my favorite Christmas present to me on time.  Sincerely, Bob.”

That year, Robyn and Bob reminded me that Christmas is about charity, sincere love and kindness, and small miracles.  I like that Webster Dictionary defines “miracle” as “a wonderful thing.”  A check for a substantial amount of money when you have none is a wonderful thing.  A stranger thanking you for being partially responsible for the receipt of his best Christmas gift, is a wonderful thing.  Christmas is about many wonderful things.  Christmas is about service--a special and beautiful time of the year to forget yourself and do something truly kind for a loved one, a friend, or a stranger.  Robyn and I were both recipients of Christmas service that year.

Mother Theresa once said, “Spread love everywhere you go...Be the living expression of God's kindness.”  I am grateful for people who are examples of God's kindness; who carry it in their eyes and in their smiles, who radiate it in their acts of selflessness at Christmas time and always.  I am grateful for Robyn for being an expression of God's kindness that year, and for reminding me of the desire I have to be that same kind of person.



12 comments:

  1. Way to go and make me cry! What an awesome story! I've been thinking of the same thing; we haven't done so much for others this season, and I can feel it. What a great reminder! Thanks!

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  2. oh i do love that story :) whether it was in person or reading the blog version, its still one of my favorites. :)

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  3. Beautifully written. This Christmas story should be sent to the Ensign for publication next year. Love you!

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