A Good Deed Brightens Your Day

I was having one of those Very-Bad-No-Good-Days. One of the worst I’d had in a long while. When along came a total stranger and he turned my day and my attitude around. I’m not just saying that. There is science that shows good deeds and volunteer work reduces stress. I hope the story of a good deed brightens your day will do that for you. It may even inspire you to pay-it-forward.

Image of a rainbow of heart shared from one hand to another a visual representation of a good deed brightens your day

The Day Started Cold

In August 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was still going strong here in the USA. Because of my husband’s precarious health, we had kept a strict self-quarantine. Those precautions meant we’d both been healthier than we’d been in years. Then came the bad day.

It was chilly outside but still August so I didn’t want to turn on the heat. So we layered up. As all the ladies know, 99% of women’s clothing does not have adequate pockets. Certainly not pockets that would hold even an old iPhone.

I put on one of my husband’s soft, well-worn flannel shirts. Comfy and warm! And it had a chest pocket deep enough for my phone. I wore it all day.

Image of woman in indian print flannel shirt with an iPhone peeking out of the chest pocket.

The Trouble Starts

Our well-trained dogs followed their routine and began pestering me for their evening meal. I bent to retrieve their bowls in order to fill them. One bowl up, no problem. Second bowl—my iPhone went kerplunk into the large and full-to-the-brim water dish.I shrieked and snatched it out of the water as quickly as I could.

I dried it off and let it air dry the inner parts. Then I tried to make a call. I could call out, but the person on the other end of the phone line couldn’t hear me. At all. That person saw my caller ID and called me back.

But I couldn’t pick up their call.

Only One Solution

I tried a couple of other internet tips to dry my phone out. To no avail. I fought panic. Until the pandemic, my husband’s health issues caused him to fall frequently. Rarely could I help him back up by myself. If my son wasn’t available, I had to call 911. That happened about once every two months, even during the pandemic.

I quickly decided there was only one solution. I’d buy a new phone at the store down the street from us. Lo-and-behold, they did not have a single iPhone in stock. The telephone company we used didn’t have any. Nor did any nearby stores. I finally located one iPhone for sale at a store thirty minutes away. I placed an online order for it.

The Next Problem

Then I faced another conundrum. My husband was wheelchair bound. His physical weakness made transferring him into a regular vehicle difficult and dangerous for both of us. We planned to get a wheelchair van, but hadn’t found one yet. And though I rarely left my husband’s side for more than 15 minutes, we decided that his good health and our need for a working telephone out weighed my sense of caution.

So I studied the map (remember, no cell phone) and copied the directions. With both the written directions and a map in the car with me, I took off to an unfamiliar-to-me part of the city.

And Things Got Worse

image of a silver car with a flat tire and a jack ready to be pumped in order to change the tire

I was nearly at the store when I felt the car lurch. Then the flub-flub-flub of a fat tire filled my ears. I was on a busy, uphill stretch of a four-lane divided highway with a curb and no shoulder space. There was nowhere to pull over. I couldn’t call for help. And I had no idea where a gas station was. So, I turned on my hazard lights, moved to the right-hand lane, and slowed waaaay down. Hoping that at the top of the hill, I’d find a station or some place to pull over.

About half-way up the hill, my tire started sounding like parts of it were flapping in the wind. Crap! I slowed even further.

At the top of the hill was a Quick Trip, a convenience store and gas station. It offers no service for vehicles.

Asking for Help

Hoping I could add air to the tire, I pulled in to their lot and parked at the air pump. I should have known. My wheel sat on shreds of the tire. No way it would hold air. No way I was driving anywhere else. And I couldn’t loosen the lug nuts on my own. I’d have to find a phone, call a tow truck, and have them change the tire for me.

Inside the QT, I asked for a telephone and a telephone book. All I got from the teenaged clerk was a blank stare. I explained my cell phone wasn’t working, needed to call a tow truck, and repeated my request. Again with the blank look. I asked to speak to the manager. (No, I did not have AAA.)

A Little Help Better than None?

The manager was a pleasant woman who offered me her cell phone. Thank you, I said, but I don’t know where the closest tow truck or service station is or a phone number to call. She graciously looked up a number on her phone, dialed it, and handed the phone to me. I explained my situation to the person who answered the telephone. The tow service person told me it would be an hour or more before they could “get to me.” I didn’t want to wait an hour fearing my husband would fall and no one would know. I asked the manager if there was another tow service I could call. When she heard how long a wait I’d have, she offered to help me.

As we walked out to my car, she explained she had a bad back and wouldn’t be able to help a lot. Great.

A Good Deed Brightens My Day

Image of a man's hands using a wrench on the lug nuts of a tire

There was a sedan parked next to my car. We reached my car and the man in the sedan got out of his car and asked if I needed help.

The young, red-headed gentleman was in shorts and sandals. He changed my tire quickly and efficiently. Refused my offer to pay him something, or buy something from Quick Trip. He gave me directions to where I needed to go and drove off without even telling me his name.

He acted out of the kindness of his heart. And while he wanted no reward, he earned a ton of points toward many blessings that day.

I got to the store, and after a few issues, finally got my new iPhone and could drive home safely. To my immense relief, my husband hadn’t fallen during my extended absence.

The Moral of This Story

Image of a book opened to the quote "Never underestimate the power of a kind word or deed."

I will remember that young man for the rest of my life. His good heart, his good deed, not only brightened my day but meant I got home sooner. He knew nothing about me, yet lightened my worries. And though I thanked him profusely, I will always feel like I owe him.

He not only helped me in my time of need, he restored my belief in the goodness of people.

I tell this story often because a good deed brightens your day. It reminds me that doing a good deed and being kind brightens yours and at least one other person’s day. And retelling the story brightens even more people’s day. So think about that the next time you’re out and see someone in need. A moment of kindness will last forever. Won’t you brighten the day for all of us? Share your stories of a good deed in the comments. 

Quotes from Dystopian Fiction to Inspire You

Some people say that dystopian fiction arouses our fears of dire “if this goes on” futures. Many think dystopian fiction is too dark to read, too depressing. Perhaps. And yet, most of us don’t read to depress ourselves. When you look closely, you can also find hope and words to inspire you.

The cover of Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451 has red and yellow flames covering most of the book. It's a book that will horrify and inspire you.

There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

We Have a Chance

Did you ever feel, as though you had something inside you that was only waiting for you to give it a chance to come out? Some sort of extra power that you aren’t using – you know, like all the water that goes down the falls instead of through the turbines?

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

We Birth Our Future

Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

David Mitchell,Cloud Atlas

We Have a Choice

The most important thing you can ever know, is that whatever your purpose is, that’s not your only choice.

Dan Wells, Partials

We Learn What Matters

It’s taken me all this time, all this loss, to realize what really matters is now.

Suzanne Young, The Treatment

We Learn What’s Possible

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

For more reasons on why we read dystopian fiction read this post.

Inspirational or Depressing?

Did you feel the hope? That’s what the best dystopian fiction does. It presents a dire situation, an awful could have been or might be, and shines the light of hope on humanity. Do you agree that dystopian fiction is meant to inspire you? 

The Insanity of Inequality

In 1851, the state of Illinois opened its first hospital for the mentally ill. The state legislature passed a law to protect people from being committed against his or her will. The law required a public hearing before that person was committed. With one exception, a husband could have his wife committed without either a public hearing or her consent. All the law required was “the permission of the asylum superintendent” and one doctor who agreed with the diagnosis. In the summer of 1860, Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard (1816-1897) was a victim of that law. Such was the insanity of inequality. 

black and white photograph or linotype of Elizabeth Packard a woman who faced the inanity of inequality and fought it.

Early Life

Betsy Parsons Ware was born in Ware, Massachusetts on December 28, 1816, to Lucy Parsons Ware and Reverend Samuel Ware. The oldest of three children, she was the only daughter. She changed her name to Elizabeth as a teenager.

Her father, a Calvinist minister, made sure all his children were well-educated. Elizabeth studied French, algebra, and the new classics at the Amherst Female Seminary. She became a teacher.

Elizabeth fell ill during the 1835 winter holidays. Doctors treated her with emetics, purges, and bleeding for “brain fever.” But her symptoms (headaches and feeling delirious) continued. Her father believed her condition was from stress and checked her into Worcester State Asylum for several weeks. Some speculate that her symptoms resulted from tight lacing her corset, which caused restricted breathing, fainting, and “poor digestion.”

Marriage

In 1839, twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth married the man her parents insisted she marry. Theophilus Packard, a conservative Calvinist minister was fourteen years her senior. They had six children and lived in Western Massachusetts until September 1954. 

They moved to Kankakee County, Illinois. She worked as a teacher in Jacksonville, Illinois.

A New Life and New Ideas

Spiritualism and other modern religious movements intrigued Elizabeth, a religious woman. She questioned her husband’s beliefs and started talking openly about her ideas to his parishioners.

Alarmed by her refusal to follow his wishes, Packard questioned Elizabeth’s sanity. 

His suggestion worried Elizabeth enough she consulted an attorney. The attorney assured her he could not commit her without a jury trial.

In the middle of her husband’s church service, Elizabeth states she was going across the street to worship with the Methodists.

Packard arranged for Dr. J. W. Brown, masquerading as a sewing machine salesman, to speak with his wife.

She complained to the “salesman” about her husband’s domination and his accusations that she was insane.

The doctor told Packard what she’d said. Packard decided to commit her to an asylum.

Committed

Elizabeth came face-to-face with the insanity of inequality on June 18, 1860, when the county sheriff forcibly removed her from her home. 

They committed her to the Jacksonville Asylum. At first, she had a private room and could keep clean and healthy.

black and white photograph of an 5 storied white insane asylum with multiple connected buildings.

The superintendent of the state hospital, Dr. Andrew McFarland, saw her several times. When she refused to agree she was insane or to change her religious views, he had her moved to the 8th Ward for the violent and hopelessly insane.

Over the next three years, Elizabeth steadfastly refused to agree she was insane or to change her beliefs. Attacked and harassed daily, she also witnessed abuse other patients suffered. She wrote her thoughts and experiences on scraps of paper she found. And she collected written testimony from other patients.

She maintained good hygiene, routine physical exercise, and cleaned the filthy rooms of Ward 8.

Discharged to Home

Depending upon which source you read, either the hospital decided it could no longer keep Elizabeth or her oldest son turned twenty-one and had the legal authority to remove her from the asylum. 

She fought the release. She wanted to finish writing her book, and she was afraid her husband would lock her up somewhere else. 

In the fall of 1863, the hospital discharged her with a letter stating she was “incurably insane” and returned to her husband.

Packard had placed locks on everything. Elizabeth could not get food or clean linens without his permission. Before long, he nailed the windows of their former nursery shut and locked her in. She had no fire or warm clothing. Meanwhile, her husband tried to get her committed somewhere else.

Elizabeth Gets Help

After about a month and a half, Elizabeth threw a letter out of the window to a neighbor. A writ of habeus corpus was issued on her behalf.

Judge Charles Starr ordered Packard to bring Elizabeth to his chambers on January 12, 1864. Packard presented Elizabeth to Judge Charles Starr as ordered. He also brought the letter from the Illinois State Asylum that said she left without being cured and is incurably insane.

Packard v. Packard

The Packard v. Packard trial began on January 13, 1864.

Theophilus Packard’s lawyers produced witnesses from his church and family and even Dr. J. W. Brown, the doctor-salesman. All of whom declared Elizabeth was insane for her disobedience and for trying to leave the church.

Elizabeth Packard’s lawyers, Stephen Moore and John Orr, called witnesses who knew the Packards but were not members of her husband’s church. None of them had ever seen any signs that Elizabeth was insane. Her friend, Sarah Haslett, testified about Elizabeth’s confinement in the locked nursery. Dr. Duncanson, a physician and theologian, testified that he had interviewed Elizabeth for three hours, and while he did not agree with her beliefs, he did not call people insane “because they differ with me.”

After seven minutes of deliberation, on January 18, 1864, the jury declared Elizabeth sane.

Home Again

Elizabeth returned home, but Packard had sold their house, took her money, notes, wardrobe, and their young children back to Massachusetts with him. His actions were perfectly legal under Illinois and Massachusetts law. Elizabeth could do nothing to recover her children and property.

Elizabeth never divorced her husband, but she never returned to him either. 

Asylum Reform

Elizabeth devoted the rest of her life to changing the conditions suffered by the mentally ill. She traveled around the country and campaigned to pass laws that required a jury trial to prove insanity. 

She founded the Anti-Insane Asylum Society and published several books, including Marital Power Exemplified, or Three Years Imprisonment for Religious Belief (1864), Great Disclosure of Spiritual Wickedness in High Places (1865), The Mystic Key or the Asylum Secret Unlocked (1866), and The Prisoners’ Hidden Life, or Insane Asylums Unveiled (1868). Her book sales made her financially independent.

Various state legislatures passed thirty-four bills, which required a jury trial before anyone could commit a person to an asylum. Illinois passed such a law in 1869. In 1880, they formed The National Society for the Protection of the Insane and the Prevention of Insanity, in part because of her influence.

And she didn’t stop there.

Married Women’s Rights

Elizabeth wrote, lectured, and lobbied against the insanity of inequality for married women. She fought for a married woman’s right to own property, sign legal documents, enter a contract, obtain an education, and keep custody of her children.

She won custody of her children when they were teenagers (1873).

After her children grew up, she lobbied for people locked up in mental wards. She got laws changed in Iowa, New York, Connecticut, and then worked on a federal bill. The bill passed.

She spent fifteen years organizing 25 other states. Many laws changed because of her influence.

A Life Story Worth Telling

book cover for the woman they could not silence by Kate Moore detailing the life story of Elizabeth Packard

Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, also known as E.P.W. Packard, died on July 25, 1897. She faced the insanity of inequality, fought it, and won. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people were saved from abuse because of her. She probably saved hundreds of married women from false imprisonment for insanity. If you’d like to read more about this strong woman who fought for women’s rights check out The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore.