For the last week, I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell a story- a true one- about kindness, compassion, generosity, confidence, and how important they are in making each of us successful human beings. Sometimes the success comes in the form of money. Sometimes, you’re rewarded with a full heart. If you’re lucky, you get both.
Last week, I got a text from my friend Liz saying, “I have a crazy story to tell you. Call me when you can.”
“You won’t believe this,” Liz said. “Today, a man walks into CASA (where Liz works) and says, “I’d like to make a small donation to your organization.” He handed her a check for $25,000. Tears welled in her eyes as she said, “Oh my gosh! This is the single biggest donation that CASA has ever received from one person! You can’t imagine how much this will help the children!” When she asked him what inspired him to make such a generous donation, he proceeded to tell her that they had a common denominator: me.
Years ago, thirty-three to be exact, this shy young man was eighteen. He was with a couple of friends in a small town near Lexington. One of his buddies said, “Let’s find some hot, rich, Lexington chicks!” The clever friends were looking in the Lexington phone book for “children’s” phone numbers. That meant they were “rich” (J). We were hardly rich. Mom sold real estate part-time and she certainly didn’t need two teenage daughters tying up her phone line. While crank-calling random numbers, there was a 50/50 chance a girl would answer. The first friend said, “I’ll go first.” He dialed a number. No answer. The second one dialed a number. Busy. The shy one dialed a number and it was me. He hung up. Later that night, he called me when he was home alone.
“Hello? Who is this?” I said. Finally a voice on the other end said, “Eddie”. He never told me at the time how he came to find me or my number. I just thought it was a misdial. At some point, I asked him his last name. He searched his room for ideas and saw the name on something he can’t recall. “Murphy.” I laughed. “Yeah, right. Eddie Murphy.” It wasn’t until I said his pseudonym out loud that he realized what he’d done. He made a comment about his parents naming him before Eddie Murphy became famous. I believed him.
We talked for hours every night. We talked about music, his troubled life at home with an alcoholic father, my abusive ex-boyfriend, hopes, dreams, and goals. Without the benefit of the internet or text messages, there was no way to know what we looked like. We didn’t care. We were each other’s confidante.
I finally pressed him to meet.
When the doorbell rang, I remember a shy blondish-brown haired blue-eyed boy standing on the porch. He later said he thought he was in way over his head.
“Eddie” and I went to a movie, he met my parents, taught me how to drive a stick shift in his Dodge Charger, exchanged Christmas presents, and I gave him a birthday card that played music when he opened it. It blew his mind. Inside I enclosed the following photo- my senior picture. In 1983, that musical card was cutting edge technology! He said I had “game”. He said he was chopsticks and I was Moonlight Sonata.
After months of intimate conversations on the phone and time together, “Eddie” was overwrought with guilt and finally told the truth. While in his car in my driveway, he handed me his driver’s license. He wasn’t Eddie Murphy and he didn’t live in Lexington. “I can’t believe you did this to me,” I said while slamming the car door.
A couple of days later, I drove to his small hometown and asked the first person I saw if he knew him. He did and I followed him to his house. “Eddie” sweated bullets while I made small talk with his mom. He later told me he was terrified that I would tell his mother what he did. “I know why you did what you did and I forgive you.” He couldn’t believe I forgave him.
In the end, I told him I knew that our relationship wouldn’t last. I had plans to become a flight attendant and travel the world. I don’t ever remember an official goodbye, although there might have been.
Two years later, he opened his own business that eventually grew into a company with more than 500 franchises worldwide. He eventually sold half of them for multi-million dollars!
In 2006, the shy boy-turned- millionaire attended a workshop in Fiji in which the facilitator asked the group to write the name of two women who have inspired them in their lives. First he wrote his mother and #2 was Ann Ritchey, a young girl he hadn’t seen or heard from in over 23 years, at the time. He doesn’t use social media, however, he likes to read inspirational blogs and stories online. He clicked on www.takeleaps.com- a site which belongs to my friend Greg Forbes Siegman, an author and philanthropist whom I met at a KY Lottery sales conference years ago. Last year, Greg asked me to send a photo of myself with a couple sentences about how I’m taking leaps of faith. So I did.
One night in late January 2016, the man searched the internet for an inspiring story after his alcoholic father passed away. He clicked on takeleaps.com and scrolled down the page reading inspirational stories. He saw this photo.
Ann, Ky: "In 2013, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I took a Leap by starting a blog -- www.KeepingYouAbreast.net -- to share my feelings, while hopefully inspiring others who might be experiencing a health crisis."
He thought I looked familiar but thought that I might be involved with the Susan B. Komen foundation, an organization his company supported. He clicked on the attached link www.keepingyouabreast.net and read the most recent entry about our trip to the Amalfi Coast. He had been there and enjoyed reading the story. He wanted to read more, so he started at the beginning. When he read the entry which had a photo of Jeff and me at Jacobson Park in 1984 (a year after “Eddie” had called me the first time), he knew it was me.
He has a photographic memory and remembers the smallest details of our months together. He remembered family names, my birthday, what we got each other for Christmas, and what I was wearing when we first met. When he read my blog, most of the names were familiar to him but he didn’t recall Liz. That’s because I met Liz in 1992. He thought that maybe she was a friend from high school that he had forgotten. Since he doesn’t forget much, he had to do what we all do when we need an answer to anything: Google. He found out that Liz was a Clinical Psychologist, got her PH.D at Stanford, and works at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates- for children). He then Googled CASA and felt compelled to give to an organization that advocated for children. He also wanted to thank the woman who worked tirelessly to make me comfortable, drive me to dr. appointments, dry my tears, cry some tears with me, clean my house, stock her fridge with my favorite foods, and say all the right things when so many tried and failed. He knew that CASA was close to Liz’s heart, so he wanted to thank her for taking such good care of me.
Of course, the shy boy is still very much an introvert and a private man. He respectfully asked me to use a pseudonym (perhaps Richard Pryor, he suggested) and wants his donation to be anonymous.
I have spent the last week walking on air. I feel like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes that day in Whoville. If you’ve read my blog, you know that I don’t believe in coincidences. A Greater Power was busy at work on this one, perhaps for years. Those months together were meant for me to teach him confidence and realize that he was worthy of love. For me, it was a lesson in forgiveness and compassion. It was a true “coming of age” story for both of us. As Oprah would say, a “full circle moment”:
The blue-eyed boy became confident and founded a multi-million dollar business. He “miraculously” found the young girl who was kind to him years ago and realized she had been fighting another battle. Her friend helped her survive the battle. He rewarded the friend with a generous donation to a cause close to her heart.
I now know that the cancer was worth it all. Yes. I’m including the eggplant colored honeydew sized boob following surgery, the hematoma, the drain, the chemo, the 18 months of baldness, the Neulasta side effects, and the fear….were all worth it. If I hadn’t had cancer, I wouldn’t have posted that photo on Greg’s website and Liz wouldn’t have had to spend a year helping to care for me. If she hadn’t cared for me, there would be no gigantic donation which will help feed and clothe so many children. I certainly wouldn’t feel this sense of relief, that I, an insecure young girl at the time myself, did something worthwhile and changed the trajectory of a young man’s life. What’s more, his donation will do the same for many children. Imagine, if you will, that each child paid it forward someday, or even one child did, and the cycle continued for another 33 years. It sure would make those two painful years of my life a short blip in the movie that continues to be my beautiful life.