I discovered that at the post office when a beautiful young Latina woman approached me and said “Are you [name]?” I said yes, not knowing who she was.
She said “I am Maria and you helped me learn English and allowed me to pass English and graduate high school. I just wanted to thank you.” She hugged me and I was stunned.
I remember helping Maria but I don’t remember many details about it. It had been 7 years since we graduated and she had turned into a beautiful person.
She was sitting on the floor against a locker and I could see she was frustrated. It was before school started and even though I didn’t know her, I thought perhaps I could help. I said she looked frustrated and asked if I could help. She showed me her English homework and she was trying to write but didn’t have the right words to express herself. I talked with her a little bit and learned she was an immigrant and her family was illegal and I offered to help her. We figured out what she needed to do that day, and I guess I continued to help her in the future.
This is not to praise me, but rather to share that when you help someone you don’t know the full consequences it may have. For her it allowed her to get a job and help her support her family and start down the road to citizenship. Her father worked in the fields making far less than minimum wage in the very hot desert sun. I could not help but admire those who work so hard to survive and succeed in life. It also makes me feel grateful for the middle-class existence that I had at that moment.
Even after 20 years, I remember how good it felt when she thanked me. Some gifts are worth more than the effort.