Today marks the first day of giving for our newest Kindness Investor from Seattle: Petra. I spoke to another future Kindness Investor earlier this week. His name is Michael B. from Connecticut and he will start his week of kindness investing on January 5th. Slowly I am getting people to join this movement; a seven-day, seventy dollar investment that has the power to change an unemployed person’s perspective on life through kindness. If you or someone you know are out of work and want an opportunity of a lifetime, drop me a line.
Today’s recipient is one whose story touched me tremendously. I was in Manassas, VA visiting my good friends Thomas and Tressa. It was their beautiful baby girl Tegan’s first birthday. Well, I guess she already had a birthday last year…a real birth day…anyway she turned one! While I was there I met a friend of theirs named Jen who teaches at the same school where Tressa teaches. I decided to give her my $10.
Our conversation was quite typical at first. We talked about her job as a high school biology teacher. I learned about her experience volunteering in Ghana with an ophthalmologist. “I did eye exams and distributed glasses to local communities,” she explained. “It completely inspired me!” It inspired her to pursue other dreams and that is why next year this 30-year-old Pittston, PA native will leave her lesson plans on photosynthesis and Mendel’s heredity research for a new career in medicine.
It’s not a surprise that Jen is going back to school when you learn that she is the faculty member that overseas homecoming, student council, prom, quiz team, etc. Yep, she’s definitely an overachiever. My friends tell me that she is a karaoke wiz too! “I know the lyrics to just about any song from the late 80s and early 90s,” she says beaming.
Then I asked a question that completely changed our carefree conversation, “Are you married, do you have kids?” I asked. There was a brief silence and she responded that she was a widow. I offered my condolences and she explained that her husband, Army 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, was killed on October 31st of 2003 in Fallujah, Iraq when an improvised explosive device (IED) hit his Humvee. The 23-year-old was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas. A graduate of West Point Military Academy, Todd’s death came just 52 days after being deployed or as Jen put it to a journalist once, “55 letters later.” “And we were married just ten days before he deployed,” she told me managing to keep her composure.
She shared with me the moment that she learned the news. “I was teaching at my school,” she began to say, “when I was visited by an Army general and chaplain…”
I was speechless. I just wanted to give her a big hug. In a matter of minutes I felt like I knew Jen for years rather than the handful of minutes we had actually spent talking to each other. And although I never met Todd, I can assure you that he was nothing less than extraordinary.
I have to be honest I couldn’t stop thinking about Todd when I got home later that evening. I had so many questions and turned to the Internet to find out more. He quickly becomes more than a casualty of war but a bright young man who liked In-n-Out burgers and making people laugh, who dreamed of raising a family with his soul mate and pursuing a career in government where he could effect real change in our country. He was a husband, a son, a brother and a friend. He would have been my friend.
There were also comments from those who never knew Todd but reached out to pay their respects to a family that understood the meaning of service. Todd’s parents were former military officers and his brother Tim is currently a Lt. Col in the U.S. Marine Corps serving in the Marine Expeditionary Unit and sister Tiffany, a 2000 graduate of West Point herself, served as a Captain in the Army before becoming a teacher.
You’ll even find a hard to put down book entitled In the Time of War by Bill Murphy, Jr. that focuses on Todd and his fellow graduating class from West Point. I got the book and have read several chapters already. It has several heartfelt excerpts of letters that Jen wrote to her husband and Todd’s farewell letter to Jen. I can’t remember the last time I cried from reading a book.
It was fitting I thought that she decided to use the ten dollars to buy items for a care package that the student council members at her school were preparing to send to troops stationed overseas for the holidays.
Todd J. Bryant 1/14/80 - 10/31/03
We live far away from places like Fallujah, Iraq and Helmand Province, Afghanistan and sometimes we take for granted the sacrifices our brothers and sisters in uniform make for us. I dedicate this blog post to the memory of Todd Bryant and encourage you to take a moment of silence right now and pay your respects to Todd and all of those who have lost their lives serving their respective countries.
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