When Sharing a Memory is a Random Act of Kindness

Photography provided by Lauren Chesley


Over the past few months I have deliberately decided to go off the grid. Basically, I have broken up with social media. Mostly because everything seemed overexposed.

On July Fourth, I found myself glued to Facebook, stalking other people’s family vacation photos. Smiling faces gathered around a campfire somewhere in Aspen or Michigan, while my four kids were splattered all over the country. I needed to walk away from family vacations, the political divide and from daily quotes suggesting how you can “Live your Best Life – Post 50.”

I’d had enough. I also decided to break up because my millennial children had had enough. It seems as though I never liked or commented on the appropriate Instagram or Facebook post of theirs. At the same time, who knew I wasn’t supposed to connect with their friends, God forbid their boyfriends? Friending your children’s friends and significant others is a complete NO-NO to all the novice parents out there.

My breakup has gone pretty well thus far. There was the typical loneliness and regret at first. I had a fabulous summer that I wanted to share with the world. I had heartbreak that I wanted others to feel. Old Spice said and did so many funny things. But I was steadfast in the time spent away from the computer. Believe me, I took so many pictures. Refrains and restraint were a struggle.

But then, social media reached out to me.

You know how you can find pretty much anyone now? Your first boyfriend, that co-worker who dissed you, the kid who sat next to you in kindergarten? Usually the advice is “NO! Run!” But in this case, the power of social media presented itself in the kindest, most extraordinary manner.

Lo and behold the following email arrived in my inbox – a personal letter to me about my mother:

My first job [after graduating high school] was an assistant to the top hair stylist at Shillito’s designer salon downtown, Dan McCourt. This is how I know who your mother is! I remember her getting her hair done from Dan. I shampooed and assisted. She got blond highlights. All the clients sat in the two chairs of Dan’s and chatted and smoked cigarettes, even Dan! Can you imagine smoking in a hair salon; it was actually very cool at the time! But your mother was the most dynamic of all those ladies that came in. I remember she came in a bit of a whirlwind, probably rushed from a busy life, always friendly and kind. Her voice was distinct, you knew she was there! (Kind of like Suzanne Pleshette’s.) I remember her being funny; she always made Dan laugh; I could tell she was his favorite too! She brought you in a couple times; I can picture you as a high
school girl!

I have to tell you, I learned so, so much from your mother and the other ladies that came in. I would listen and hear talk of their children going off to college and career choices. I was determined to stress education when I had children, seeing how far a good education can take you. All four of my children have great educations and great careers! So I have always been grateful to your mother, Suellen Chesley. I have always been in awe of her and thought she was someone I would love to imitate in my life. I was so sorry to hear of her death, much too soon. She had an impact on so many people; people you never even knew were watching and listening. She leaves quite a legacy.    ­– Gwen

I stopped. I read and re-read the email. Who was Gwen? She remembered my mom at a time when my mom was effervescent … the version I often forget. It seems as though pain and age and cancer can leave a lasting scar that mars the earlier renditions.

I forget my 50-year-old mom. The one with the cigarette in hand spewing advice and wisdom and honesty – even if you didn’t ask for it. The one who was bigger than life. The one with her own energy and presence that went so far beyond just being “my mom.”

I think of how paths cross, if only for a moment. Or how people influence one another, beyond ways that they could ever imagine, even in passing. This moment is not one I remember. As a high schooler, perhaps I was embarrassed by her loudness, her confidence, her joy for life that I now try to emulate.

Thank you, Gwen, for taking the time to give that forgotten glimpse. Thank you for tracking me down, for writing your words. Thank you mostly for remembering and taking the minutes to put it down on paper. I forgot how cool that woman was with the cigarette and the loud voice. Gwen and I are meeting for lunch next month. I need to know more.

The thing that that pushed me away from social media is the same thing that draws me back at this moment: people espousing their opinions about everything on the internet. And then came Gwen, who used her words, reaching out to a stranger with a random act of kindness. 


Lauren Chesley is a contributor to LEAD Cincinnati, Venue Magazine and Make It Better. She is writing her first book and blogging about the journey of being “unapologetically you” post-50 at www.stuffoflifeblog.com.