Friday, December 16, 2022

A Stranger Who Changed My Life

I’ve tried to write this dozens of times, and the truth is that I just don’t know where to start. Have you ever had a stranger drastically impact your life – literally change the trajectory – and you don’t know how to thank them?

Let’s go back almost 15 years. I’d dug a pile of papers from an old box and read the harrowing story about how my son died. After reading my words, I wanted other people to hear his story because it meant that he wasn’t gone. Not … really.

So, having no idea how to proceed, I pulled out my dilapidated phone book and also Googled local publishers, then I simply started calling numbers. 

This might sound straightforward, but it quickly felt exhausting. Some people were rude and stingy with information. Other people, like the man who republished old works or many self-published authors, seemed quite lovable but couldn’t help me at all.

After the fourth day passed without results, I almost gave up. I spread my son’s story on the ground—just like I’d once spread his tiny ashes. I’d written on napkins, the back of medical bills, notebooks, and anything I could find. It would take forever to organize this mess. Plus, I didn’t want to contemplate the emotional pain of reliving my son’s life and death as I typed every word into the computer. Why even try?!

But although God didn’t give me Elizabeth Taylor’s face or Einstein’s brains, He did give me an extra helping of moxie. So, I grabbed a soda and picked up the phone to call one last publisher. 

“Hello?” the man said, his voice resonating with strength and happiness.

“Hi,” I quivered, “are you a publisher … a book publisher? I need help.”

“Well,” he said, “I did publish a book.” He paused. “How can I help you?”

And out of over 100 people, he was the first person to ask me how he could help. And then, that generous stranger proceeded to give me advice and talk with me for several minutes. I wrote everything down and gained the courage and fortitude to put my son’s story together. 

“I hope that helps,” he said.

“Oh! It does. It really does.” Before he could hang up, I dared to ask, “What book did you write?”

“‘The Christmas Box,’” he said.

It took years, but I eventually published my first memoir, and it actually became a bestseller on Amazon. I’ll still never forget watching as over 3000 copies of the eBook got downloaded in a single day. I cried not because this seemed like a small success but because my son’s memory would live on.

Fast forward to present day. A couple of months ago, I sat crying at my computer because I’m fighting stage four cancer and life can be hard. I’d recently been perusing Netflix and saw a couple of new shows that would be coming out in November—those could be distracting. “The Noel Diary” by the same man who wrote “The Christmas Box” seemed especially interesting. I shook my head because it seemed surreal remembering my conversation with that author, Richard Paul Evans, so long ago. I couldn’t believe that he’d taken time to help a nobody like me. And what’s ironic is how it seemed like no big deal. I bet he didn’t even remember a random act of kindness that literally changed the trajectory of my life.

Anyway, I sat crying, thinking about how hard life can be, and that’s when I got a notification. My heart stopped. “Richard Paul Evans commented on your photo …”

I dried my eyes and gaped at the screen. “No way,” I said. And when I clicked on the link; it was true! He had come through for me again—a total stranger brightening my day for no reason, telling me how much he enjoyed my post where I’d written about overcoming hardships.

I didn’t thank him in my reply … because I didn’t know how to. But that’s why you’re reading this today I guess. Right before Christmas, I hoped this “message in a bottle” would make it to one of my favorite authors—a stranger who changed my life. Thank you for selflessly helping me. 

From a girl who’s continued writing for years, I’m so grateful for your kindness,

EC Stilson

#RichardPaulEvans #TheChristmasBox #TheNoelDiary #randomactofkindness

Photo Info: These are from my first hospital stay when doctors removed my L3 vertebrae after they discovered tumors in my spine, hip, brain, and lungs. I’m so grateful they let me play my violin for other patients; it really made everything quite a bit better.

Side note: Melanoma sucks! I hope everyone will go get their skin checked if they see anything suspicious.

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