Days after he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Albert Camus wrote a letter to his elementary school teacher to thank him for the kindness shown him as a pupil. I was reminded of this letter today when I read this article. (Link opens another tab.)
The letter in turn reminded me of one kind deed that my late aunt (my late uncle’s wife) showed me on my birthday when I was still 9 or 10 years old. I have many memories of my childhood, both sad and happy ones, but the memory of my aunt giving me money and kissing me on the cheek on my birthday because she said I looked so sad (and I was because my parents had nothing special to give me then!) is still as vivid in my mind as on the day it happened.
It seems to me a kindness shown a child remains in their memory long after they grow up and become adults themselves.
Camus’ gratitude, my own experience of remembering my aunt’s kindness and also reading the testimony of Dr. Herzenstube’s at the trial in The Brothers Karamazov, when he recounted how Dmitry as a grown man had stopped by his office to thank him for giving him (Dmitry), a pound of nuts when he was only a kid – these convince me that when you show a child kindness, they will never forget it and will remain grateful for it for the rest of their lives.
Some may say, this world can show many adults who had received kindness from their parents yet are ungrateful to them. Perhaps so, but the kindness or love from parents are to be expected because the parents had brought their children to this world. It is when the kindness is unexpected that the impact is stronger and therefore unforgettable.
Camus’ teacher was not family; Dr. Herzenstube was not family to Dmitry; my aunt was family, but not my parent, and she had her own 7 children! They did not have to do what they did; but they did it, and that’s what made the children who were recipient of their kindness, remember them well for, into their adult lives.
A child never forgets an unexpected act of kindness. Be kind to a child when you see one. You’ll never know when this child will show you his gratitude.
Here is Camus’ letter to his elementary school teacher:
Dear Monsieur Germain,
I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honor, one I neither sought nor solicited. But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened. I don’t make too much of this sort of honor. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.
You’re not the kindest,
Nor the sweetest, gentlest one —
But you’re you — perfect!
Locked in by someone,
One desires freedom; locking
Oneself in — tragic.
Early morning rain
Kissing away last night’s sins —
Blessing this new day.
Unreachable — but this soul