Opinion: Plenty of good in Starkville 


Full disclosure: This column was supposed to say something completely different, but multiple acts of kindness in one evening led me to delete the previous 1,000 angry words I wrote.

The last few weeks have been beyond trying. Between covering the city’s opposition to the LGBT pride parade (and taking a pro-LGBT editorial stance) and other drama sprinkled here and there, I’ve been feeling like all the meanness in the world has me by the throat.

But on Monday night, I was given perspective that no amount of money could buy and went from being a tough guy in cowboy boots to a quivering Blanche DuBois.

After the close of business at the paper, I had a brief time window to go sit by my lonesome at Taste of China on Highway 12 and eat a quick dinner before heading back to the office to get the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader ready to go to the press. Storm clouds were already starting to roll into the area and, to be honest, the day had pretty much beat me to the ground.

I ate my fill in a hurry and got up to go pay when the unthinkable occurred. When I went to take my debit card out of my cashless wallet, I realized I didn’t have it. I dumped the contents of my wallet on the table and rummaged through it frantically. The sweat began to form in little salty beads on the back of my neck and my heart raced.

At that moment, I realized I must’ve left it on the counter at Restaurant Tyler when I went to get lunch and I knew they were closed.

I called one of the owners - Brian Kelley - and he graciously told me he would check it out and see if it was there. He was walking his dog, it was after dark and he could have easily said no or pushed it off until the next day.

Meanwhile, I could feel my face turning red and I was panicked, having never been in this situation before. I felt marooned, like I didn’t have a friend in the entire world.

About the time I was ready to break down completely, the waitress gently tapped me on the shoulder, and with a smile on her face, told me I didn’t have to worry about it. She pointed to two young people - roughly my age - sitting across from me and said they had paid my bill.

They smiled at me and one of them said they understood the situation I was in.

I could have died right there in that booth. In my adrenaline-fueled embarrassment and gratitude, I stumbled over, hugged them both quickly and thanked them, then ran out before the tears started flowing. I was too prideful to let them see me cry and I regret not sticking around longer than just a few seconds.

What did I do to deserve being on the receiving end of an act of kindness like that?

Even if you ask me now, I’ll say I was the least-deserving person that came to mind.

By the time I pulled into my driveway, feeling completely defeated, I got a call from Brian, who had gone to the restaurant after hours and had my card. The kindness just kept pouring out and I had no idea why.

Brian waited outside the restaurant, as the storm clouds waited to burst overhead, for longer than the five minutes I told him it would take me to get to the restaurant. He, too, got an overly-emotional hug he may not have wanted, for doing something he didn’t have to do.

He had a smile on his face the whole time and acted like it was nothing.

What a dude.

After getting my card, I raced back to the buffet in the hopes that I could still get the name of at least one of the people who paid my bill, but my luck ran out. They had paid in cash and there was no trace of them in the restaurant.

I’m not a religious person, but maybe they were angels … I honestly couldn’t tell you because it was like they intentionally vanished into thin air the moment I realized I needed to find a tangible way to thank them.

Then, the biggest epiphany hit me square in the gut: the people who paid for my food, Brian Kelley, and the kind folks at Taste of China who didn’t call the cops when I didn’t have money … these are the people that make Starkville special.

It’s kindness, love and compassion that make up the real fabric of our city, not the distorted image of intolerance crafted in recent weeks by national media.

Tonight for the Board of Aldermen is nothing different. They have a rare opportunity to change the narrative and issue a permit for Starkville Pride to have its parade, not because they necessarily have to, but because it’s the right thing to do.

There is incalculable love in this community and that should be what we are known for. So, I implore the Board of Aldermen to take this simple anecdote and realize how indicative it is of the true spirit of this city. After all, one day, any of the four aldermen who opposed the parade could be in a situation like mine where all they have to depend on is the kindness of a stranger.

In closing, if you are, or know, the people who helped me out in my time of need, please let me know at editor@starkvilledailynews.com.

Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newspaper or its staff.