The Unforgettable Power of Kindness

John stationed in Panama with the US Army
John stationed in Panama with the US Army

My first and only duty station during my tour in the U.S. Army was in Panama. Panama is a beautiful country, but I was lost and alone. My life was isolated to Fort Davis, work and my barracks. My friends and co-workers were one and the same. Our work shifts were 12 hours long – days or nights – and we often worked 30 days without break.

Somewhere during this madness – this fatiguing, demanding, relentless madness – I met the Cochran family. They were an American family who’d lived in Panama for over 25 years: their parents worked for the Panama Canal Commission, and their kids were my age. They were kind and a refreshing departure from the norm.

One day, some nine months after my arrival in Panama, the Cochran’s spontaneously invited me over for dinner. The thought of a home-cooked, non-mess hall meal set my taste-buds dreaming. Steak, corn and potatoes? BBQ Chicken with baked beans? How about a good, old fashioned hamburger?

Dinner was served, and Mrs. Cochran apologetically served a simple bowl of split pea soup. She didn’t know split pea was/is my favorite soup; and three bowls later she was convinced her hospitality and generosity was more than good enough. It was perfect! It was more than anything I could have asked for or imagined. It filled my stomach, restored my strength and warmed my heart.

Thinking about that day, that family and that split pea soup reminds me that I have a lot for which to be thankful.

In addition to being thankful, it also reminds me that I am a person, and we are a community surrounded by opportunities to be like the Cochran family to people who are experiencing hunger, homelessness or hurt.

In Your Service, John Van Cleef, Chief Executive Officer