The Best Birthday Present I Got This Year Was From a Total Stranger
My husband opened the door of the bedroom, which had become his quarantine, to wheeze, "There's a delivery, and they're on their way up." John had just gotten home from the hospital after the first of what would be two visits for COVID-19. He interrupted my frenzy to clean the apartment that we had just moved into while I corralled our inquisitive daughter, Cora.
I looked at him thinking maybe he'd planned something, but there was no gleam in his eyes, only a deadpan glaze of illness.
I heard a knock and opened the door, and discovered a red box and a balloon with "Happy Birthday!" on it. Tears welled in my eyes as I picked it up and read the card. "Happy birthday to you and your daughter! Wishing you a wonderful day despite these difficult times. Paula."
Here's the thing: I'd never even met Paula. Paula was a woman I talked to for five minutes days earlier when she called for information on a document that my husband wasn't able to sign when he visited the emergency room where she worked.
She asked me if we were OK and I answered honestly, "We are healthy enough, but both my daughter and I are having birthdays this weekend and my husband has COVID." She listened as I expressed my intense worry and cried a few tears.
That month brought enormous challenges as John returned to the hospital for four days and was still on oxygen when he got back home. I will be forever grateful for friends and family who helped, but Paula's gesture of chocolate strawberries and that beautiful balloon, which stayed floating where my newly 1-year-old daughter could see it, represented how a simple act of kindness can make things OK, even if for a moment.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's December 2020 issue as "The Act of Kindness That Touched Our Family This Year: The Birthday Gift That Meant Everything." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here