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By Mark E. Smith

We hear of “random” acts of kindness, but more aptly, they’re usually “intentional” acts of kindness.

I often write about coming up the hard way, and that experience, of course, has shaped who I am, feeling extremely blessed for however little or however much I have in all areas of life.

I’m very fortunate to have the means to eat out – especially since it’s something I enjoy. After all, what’s more relaxing after a day at work than having a fine dinner somewhere? And, my wife and I have our favorites, including the restaurant our acquaintance, Gary, owns. The food’s great, the staff and patrons know us, and they always fit us in, with or without reservations. We’re just comfortable there.

As a result, it’s become a tradition that we go to Gary’s place for his Christmas Eve buffet – an unbelievable seafood spread. We get dressed up, settle into our table, and have a terrific festive holiday dinner among our family and those we know.

This year, however, was an exception. Indeed, we got dressed up, had a fantastic feast, and exchanged holiday greetings with the staff and those we knew from the community. But, when we asked for the bill, there wasn’t one.

See, Dr. Freiman, who grew up with Gary – both my age – sat with his family at the table next to us. And, as he and his family left, he quietly paid our bill. Why would Dr. Freiman do that?

Well, there’s more to his and Gary’s story than most know. Dr. Freiman, an ENT specialist, and Gary grew up together. In looking at either one today, you’d never guess their upbringing. After all, one’s a doctor and the other is a very successful chef.

Yet, they grew up together in the worst of the worst conditions, living in dive motels, neglected and abused. As Gary told me, he was as shocked as anyone years ago when he was working as a chef at a wedding, only to find out the groom-doctor was Mike Freiman, the kid he tagged around with in school. “Neither of us came from a real home and we were always in trouble together,” Gary told me. “It’s a miracle we each made it to this point.”

Gary knows a bit about my story, past and present, and as kindred spirits, we know the unsaid code that Dr. Freiman clearly also knows: When you’ve survived your knocks in life and achieve some level of success, you give to others, both out of empathy in having once been where some are, and in recognition of where others have gotten, as well.

As one who’s always felt it’s better to give than to receive – being fortunate where I’ve gotten in life – it was a true honor to receive such an understanding gift this past Christmas Eve by Dr. Freiman. Whether giving or receiving, we are truly blessed in the process.

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