Monday, March 9, 2015

It's the Little Things

After 40 years, Utah man seeks forgiveness from Texas town

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image2Dr. Kim Roberts of Salt Lake City and Robert Hanna of Denison, Texas, have never met. They’ve never chatted on the phone nor exchanged an email.
Instead, they’re linked by two letters and bonded by a brick.
In 1973, Roberts was serving as a missionary in Texas when his travels took him to Denison, a small city 75 miles north of Dallas.
Roberts remembers one afternoon strolling along and noticing something unusual about the red bricks in the sidewalk near the house they temporarily called home. Some of the standard-sized bricks were stamped with the words, “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk.”
Roberts eyed a few unstamped bricks loose on the edge of the road and decided it was time to take a souvenir. He carefully pried a couple of bricks loose from the sidewalk and replaced them with plain ones. He later learned that the unusual bricks had been laid at the turn of the century as a reminder to citizens of the tumbleweed town that they could reduce the spread of tuberculosis by not spitting on the ground.
Roberts wrapped up his brick and placed it in his suitcase. It then traveled with him over his remaining days in Texas, and eventually, on a plane to his family’s home in Seattle.
He was proud of his unique souvenir and took care of it. He painted the stamped letters white to help them stand out and coated the brick in lacquer. It was a fantastic conversation starter and a sweet memory of his service in Texas.
But as the years passed, the brick became heavier and heavier. In a recent interview, Roberts described his change of heart.
“As time went on, it hit me (that) I’d stolen something. But I didn’t steal an object. I’d stolen a part of history from this town.”
The feelings became stronger during the 80’s and 90’s and for the last eight years he whispered these words every time he saw the brick. “I should really send that back.”
One Sunday in church, during a lesson on honesty, he knew he couldn’t wait any longer. Like all of us, Roberts confides there are several things in his life he cannot completely correct.
“So, I guess I finally realized I should rectify what I can,” he said. “We all do things, and at the time, we think they’re humorous or not harmful to anyone. But as we mature, we grow in understanding and see that some of our past actions haven’t been that noble. So we repent, make it right, do all we can and the Atonement takes over.”
With those words on his mind, Roberts finally wrapped the brick back up and with the help of the Internet, found an address for the city offices of Denison, Texas. But sending a 110-year-old bubble-wrapped brick by itself wasn’t enough. Roberts needed to write a letter, and the letter needed to ask for forgiveness.
To Whom It May Concern:

This may seem like an odd letter accompanying an old package. Let me explain. Forty years ago I had the privilege of serving in the state of Texas as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spent a few days in Denison and was fascinated with the many neatly paved sidewalks featuring the “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk” logo. I determined that I needed one as a souvenir and helped myself to one, not thinking that my actions were a complete contradiction of who and what I represented. Over the years I have had occasional pangs of guilt, but while sitting in church this past Sunday and listening to a lesson on honesty I determined that now is the time to return the brick to its rightful owners. I do so with my full apologies for showing disrespect to the good people of Denison. I ask your forgiveness. I realize that the brick most likely cannot be returned to the previous place in the sidewalk in front of the house where I was staying at the time in 1973 (I don’t recall the address), but perhaps by placing it in a conspicuous place in your offices it will be a reminder that, in the end, honesty is the best policy. Thank you.

Kim G. Roberts
Some 1,200 miles away in Denison, city manager Robert Hanna was toiling away at another day. Not only was Hanna not in Texas in 1973 when the brick was stolen, he wasn’t even in his parents’ plans yet. Plus, the remaining “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk” bricks were long gone from Denison’s sidewalks and streets.
He’ll never forget the day the heavy box arrived.
“Mr. Hanna,” Cheryl Green called from her desk outside his office. “You need to come see this.” The brick was so well wrapped and packaged, Hanna said it wouldn’t have just survived a drop from a mail truck; one could have run it over.
The brick and letter stunned him. “In my world, this never happens,” Hanna explained. “This is a one in a million thing. We have street signs, stop signs, you name it, stolen all the time. Nothing comes back.”
Hanna could not stop thinking about the gesture from the former LDS missionary. “I think God uses people like this. And it speaks to this man’s character. It was such a trivial thing. But to carry that around,” Hanna hesitated a moment before adding a simple and subtle, “Wow.”
Though not a member of the same church, Hanna has great respect for the faith and is familiar with its teachings. “God uses people to send messages,” he said, and he knew the message Roberts needed to hear.
Ten days later, he sat at his desk and penned a letter on Denison letterhead.
Dear Dr. Roberts,

Is it not written in 2 Nephi 25:26, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins?”

Be at peace with yourself and your actions. By taking what wasn’t yours, you preserved a piece of Denison history that the city did not see fit to preserve many years ago. Thanks to you and your actions, we can hold a piece of our community’s history once again and display it with pride. Behold! God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

May the Lord bless you in all things and grant you peace.


Robert Hanna
Back in Utah, Roberts was touched by the kind letter and filled with the peace he’d longed for. To him, it wasn’t just about a brick. It was about the pure principle of forgiveness.
When both humble men were asked what they hope people will remember about their inspiring story, their answers were nearly identical. It’s never too late to give up the bricks in our lives. And our loads become so much lighter when the bricks are back where they belong.
Even if it’s on a shelf in a small Texas town called Denison.

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