One never knows when a random act of kindness can have a tremendous impact on people's lives. I'm haunted by a story I read about the great number of suicides committed over the years by people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
A suicide note of one of those unfortunate souls was found in his room. It read, "If anyone speaks to me today on the way to the bridge, I will not jump." Tragically, just a simple nod of the head, or some other form of greeting by someone that day, would have saved a human life.
I personally know of a random act of kindness that liberated an entire family from Communism.
When I was in Vietnam, I got to know a young Vietnamese girl by the name of Qui Guyen. She worked for the military there as a civilian secretary. Qui was pretty and petite, and had an infectious laugh and wonderful personality. Her ambition in life was to go to college in the U.S. some day. Through the years, soldiers had promised her that if she received a scholarship at some American college, they would chip in and help pay her way to the States. Over the years, GI's would come and go, but she never gave up hope.
When I met Qui and learned her ambition, I decided to take a shot in the dark. I wrote a letter to Dr. Harry Sparks, then president of Murray State University.
I outlined Qui's story to him, and her dream of coming to the U.S. some day to attend college. I then inquired as to whether Murray State could offer her any assistance.
A few weeks later, I received a letter from President Sparks with fantastic news.
He advised that Qui would be given a full scholarship -- a full ride -- if she wanted to come to Kentucky and study at Murray State.
Needless to say, this young Vietnamese girl was ecstatic.
About this time, I got shipped to other areas of Vietnam and lost regular contact with Qui. Periodically, when communications got through, I learned that she was frantically trying to get together the airline fare to the U.S. Then the end of the war came and I was sent to Korea. However, I managed to meet up with Qui in Saigon the night before I left for Korea. With her typical energy and diligence, she advised me that she had managed to contact enough Vietnam veterans -- some even still in country -- to come up with the cost of her transportation to the U.S. All she needed was a sponsoring family, and, of course, I willingly obligated and assured her that my family would be hers once she came to the States.
I was in Korea when Qui arrived at Barkley Field Airport in Paducah, on a hot August day. Members of my family later laughed and told me that Qui got off the airplane wearing an overcoat. In Vietnam, she had heard how cold the United States was.
Qui became part of the family. She enrolled in Murray State and immediately became a big hit.
Her freshman year she was nominated Homecoming Queen, and over the next four years she was one of the most popular students on campus. She graduated with a degree in accounting, but not before a very traumatic event transpired in her life.
In May 1975, Qui and I sat forlornly in front of the television set and watched North Vietnamese Communist troops invade her hometown in Saigon. (It will never be Ho Chi Minh City to either Qui or me.) We silently watched the tanks clamoring into the downtown area, and the Communist conquest of not only that city, but all of South Vietnam.
There was also a dreadful air of uncertainty in not knowing what would be the fate of the people -- including Qui's family -- who had been friendly to the United States' forces there. Concentration camps, summary executions, torture, and the possibilities all loomed in both our minds during those dark hours.
For a long time, Qui did not hear from her family. She proceeded to get a job in Ohio, and then moved to California. She eventually received news that her family was safe and doing as well as could be expected. Over time she began to receive regular communications from them. Qui had a large family -- her mother and father, several brothers and sisters, and their spouses and children.
Finally, Qui learned that her father had died from natural causes. Then Qui set out on a great plan. She determined that she was going to work and make enough money to legally bring all of her family -- every single one of them -- out of Communist Vietnam to America. Over the years, Qui worked long hours -- saving ever nickel and dime that she could. Not only was she able to purchase a large house, but she also provided the cost of rescuing every single member of her family from Vietnam and bringing them to California.
In total, there were 18 men, women and children. Today, these people have successful lives, businesses and careers of their own.
They have become Americanized.
Qui's great quest has been accomplished, and all her family members are now successful and happy American citizens.
Qui deserves the lion's share of credit for this monumental success story.
However, Harry Sparks also deserves special recognition for his random act of kindness.
The day he received Qui's letter he might have given it only a few minutes of thought.
Undoubtedly, much more pressing problems associated with running a large university were raining down upon him. Budgetary woes, a potential uprising among teachers, perhaps a difficult meeting coming up with Boards of Regents, or maybe a heating unit malfunction in Richmond Dorm might all have been typical issues he was dealing with on that particular day.
However, whatever segment of time that it took, the minutes that he gave to the request of this young Vietnamese girl thousands of miles away changed not only her life, but the lives of her entire family.
And no one knows, but within those lives now flourishing in southern California may come future scientists, doctors, teachers, or simply ordinary contributing citizens who will make life better for all of us.
Bill Cunningham is a retired Kentucky Supreme Court justice and a Lyon County native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.