Sunday, March 18, 2001

Winners end up smelling like roses

The Enquirer's annual Rose Garden letter contest

        All too often, we focus on what's wrong with the world and each other, instead of what's right. The Enquirer's annual Rose Garden letter contest is one small effort to bring that focus into better balance. Just look at the letters on this page.

       The winners of our third annual Rose Garden give us heartwarming insights into human acts of kindness. They're the letters we judged best of the many we've received and published over the past few weeks.

        The idea behind this contest comes from reader Ellen Hecker, who wrote in 1999 urging us to publish more postive letters. “I challenge the Enquirer to ask its readers to contribute personal stories of random acts of kindness, inspiration, heroism and gratitude,” she wrote.

        Readers have proven up to the challenge, as this year's winners show. As promised, we'll send roses to the winners. And we'll continue to welcome those stories of “kindness, inspiration, heroism and gratitude.”

First Place
Darla Watkins, Mason
Teacher thanks her students

        It has been said that public schools are a reflection of our society. In the teaching profession, we know the value of “reflecting”; evaluating our performance and outcomes and making changes in instruction to meet the needs of our students.

[photo] Mason High School teacher Darla Watkins with Mason senior Nathan Decker.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        As I look back on a particularly challenging week as a public high school teacher, the random acts of kindness displayed by some of my students have provided a respite from my feelings of discouragement, which were a direct result of a few students' lack of respect for me and their classmates. In honoring these students for their acts of kindness and gratitude, I also honor their parents. For the longer I teach, the more I am convinced that the love and respect that is shown in the classroom mirrors what students have been taught in their “primary” classroom . . . the home.

        For the mornings you opened the door for me when my arms were full of book bags and bagels . . . I thank you, Jimmy, Darrell, and Paul.

        For sharing in front of your peers that you appreciate the parents who provided breakfast for the senior class during senior proficiency week . . . I thank you, Lauren.

        For patting me on the back and wishing my son good luck in his upcoming ball game . . . I thank you, Jay.

       For looking me directly in the eyes, smiling, and sincerely wishing me a good day . . . I thank you, Joshua.

       For visiting my classroom to say hello and give me a hug . . . I thank you, Michelle.

        For delivering a “goodie basket” to my home during the holidays . . . I thank you, Paul.

       For helping a Russian student and making him smile . . . I thank you, Matthew.

       For taking the time to write a thank you note expressing your appreciation . . . I thank you, Josh.

       For telling me you can see how much I care about my students . . . I thank you, Matt.

       For offering encouragement and sharing your appreciation for all you are learning . . . I thank you, Sarah.

       And to all the students who are respectful and kind to one another on a daily basis, I appreciate you. You are a beautiful example of what is good and right in this world, and I thank you.

Second Place
Terrie L. McGoron, Deer Park
Co-worker to rescue

        Only five months after starting my new job, I fell one Saturday night, shattering my ankle and breaking my leg in six places. After emergency surgery I was told I might not walk again.

        I called on Monday morning to let my new employer know what had happened. I was prepared for the worst . . . I had not been there long enough to qualify for leave or to have good friends, or that's what I thought. A co-worker arrived at my bedside, who happened to be a nurse. When I came home from the hospital, she was there with a cot and a bag and announced that she would be staying with my children and me until we were out of the woods.

        The pain was excruciating. I couldn't do anything for myself, and my children were confused because Mom always took care of everything. This angel of mercy brought me medicine at night, did our laundry, brushed my hair, fed my children, and even took my dog out in the middle of the night, only to get my kids off to school and then proceed to work herself.

        She didn't see her own family except on weekends for a month. Other co-workers provided dinner, collected money to pay my bills, brought in canned goods, even dog and cat food. They provided rides to and from physical therapy as well.

        My leave of absence was approved, and I was able to collect short-term disability. In addition to my excellent medical team, the people I worked with, the company, and especially Barb Strategier, deserve credit for my being able to walk now. I will never again spend time whining about what is wrong with the world, because I know that true goodness does exist. I don't know what I did to deserve the help I was given, but I do know that I will spend the rest of my life trying to be worthy of it. There can be no better story than this. Please send the roses directly to Barbara. Thank you.

Third Place
Melissa Pyle, Villa Hills
Roses in tragedy

        One of the most interesting ironies in life is that we almost never smell the “bed of roses” until we're lying on life's debilitating “bed of nails.”

        Sometimes someone or something comes along and prunes the roses in our rose garden. In my life, this something was cancer. Yet, the amazing part of my situation is that 10 years after that saga took place, there is a positive memory melted into my soul that I can never forget.

        Somewhere between being hoisted from my adolescence to the ninth-floor pediatric cancer ward there grew a churning in my stomach, a lump in my throat, and a horrific vision of what things awaited me when I peeled myself from the hospital elevator. Forlorn faces, crying children, and darkened corridors were just a few of the things I was sure would be on the oncology itinerary. I could never have been more wrong.

        The next sight I saw was the one I see every time someone says, “Positive attitude.” The walls were colorful, the lights were brighter, the voices were jubilant — I was beginning to think I was in the wrong place, but the best was yet to be seen. When I rounded the corner there they were, the most deathly ill children in town, and they had wheels. With a social worker as their engineer, the small patients were standing on the base of their I.V. poles, holding hands and choo-chooing all the way down the hall. That was breathtaking.

        I was speechless.

        Despite all the tragedy these precious ones had endured they still had their imaginations, no worries, and somewhere to play. That's all we need to stay happy, too. We are all so caught up in the race with the Joneses and hours at a desk, that our negative attitudes run over all the roses we encounter. Like a pesticide they kill off all the good fragrances, people, and moments we will wish we had cherished when we're on our backs counting the dots on the ceiling. If the pruning of life is done correctly, the winter will pass and the blooming in spring will be much more full, fragrant and fulfilling.

        So the next time you feel the urge to gripe about the trivia — go pick a rose, stick it to your nose, sniff, smile and remember the I.V. pole express — you might be its next passenger.


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- Winners end up smelling like roses
Tristate A.M. Report