Columnist Dan Rodricks (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun )
I bring Maya Angelou along today because news of her death made millions of us think of her voice — we can all hear that voice — but mostly because I think she belongs here. I have a couple of small stories to share, and while they stand alone as heart-lifters and soul-refreshers, some Maya music might give them a little more resonance.
She extracted great lessons and profound wisdom from small things — personal experiences, observations from daily life — and her words ended up on posters and greeting cards. Her rich voice echoed across crowds.
Let me start with this Angelou quote: "I have found that, among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver."
Especially if you give back something — found money — that did not belong to you but you could have kept for your selfish self.
The first story comes from a fellow named Jim Weaver in Harford County.
"Small story," he wrote in a note back in March, "but nevertheless one that renews one's belief in the goodness of people."
Weaver's son, Kevin, dropped his wallet on a street in Federal Hill on Sunday night, March 23. The wallet contained all that you would expect, plus $40 cash.
Five days later, it showed up in Kevin's mailbox in Bel Air, with all its contents, including the cash.
"Two guys named 'Chedda Cheese' and 'Franklin' found it and mailed it to him," Jim Weaver wrote. "They apparently went to some effort to accomplish this kind act."
The handwritten "Dear Kevin" note accompanying the wallet said: "We found your wallet on the sidewalk of Ostend Street with $40 and your credit cards and driver's license and insurance card. We tried looking you up on the web, but no luck so we figured mailing it is the next best thing. ... Treat yaself."
Angelou again: "I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back."
Over my years as a columnist, several people have told me stories like Weaver's — tales of strangers doing the right, kind thing.
The most memorable came in 1995, when I reported on the loss of $6,000 by a Russian immigrant couple, Antonia Berest and her husband, Iosif Tsitlik. They were housekeepers at the time, and they had just finished a job in the Homeland neighborhood of North Baltimore.
Berest had left her handbag on the roof of the car that she and Tsitlik had hoped to replace with their savings. The handbag contained no identification, only the money. It slid off the roof of the car when the couple drove away.
After reading about this in my column, 31-year-old Laurie O'Connell, a graduate student at what was then Loyola College, contacted me. She had found the money on the street. She returned it to the couple.
All across Baltimore — it actually became a national story for a day — people gasped.
Whether written or spoken, these stories always seem to be accompanied by gasps.
That's because we're all a bit cynical about our fellow humans. Most of us have little expectation that something we've lost, particularly cash, would ever get back to us.
As Angelou said: "There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing."
But, believe me, it happens. People do the right thing.
Another such story arrived by email at The Baltimore Sun the other day from a Michigan woman named Julie Borener. Her husband was in Baltimore for Preakness weekend, to see the race and attend his son's bachelor party. At some point in his travels — probably Saturday night and probably in a cab — he lost his money clip.
"The clip had over $500, his credit card, driver's license and numerous other personal cards," Borener wrote. "We assumed we would never get any of it back. Well, we assumed wrong, because two very special people from Baltimore happened to find his money clip. Somehow they found our home phone number in Michigan and left a message. They went out of their way to deliver [the clip] to my husband's hotel the next morning."
Borener would not identify the couple; she gave only their first names, Kelly and Matthew.
Angelou: "You don't have to think about doing the right thing if you're for the right thing, then you'll do it without thinking."
Borener said Kelly and Matthew had refused a reward. They told her husband, "Pay it forward."
As you might imagine, this experience left the Boreners with a pretty positive view of Baltimore.
"What wonderful people live in Baltimore, and a very special thank you to Kelly and Matthew," Borener wrote. "Baltimore rocks."
Which brings me to one more Maya Angelou quote, one of her most famous:
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.