Confession: I should be finishing up several other columns of varying degrees of doom and gloom right now.
My soul straight-up needs a break, and considering the constant state of dread so many of us live in these days, I’m guessing yours can use one, too.
So, during this Christmas season, any time I can sneak in some good news, something to renew our faith in humanity, in each other, I’m going to do it. The bad news isn’t going anywhere. Trust me.
In that spirit, I begin what I’m tentatively calling my #NotEverythingIsAwful campaign by introducing you to Ismarie Gomez.
Ismarie is 8. She’s smart, she’s sweet, and she’s a shining example of grace in these spectacularly ungracious times.
She and her mom, Kiomarie Rodriguez, relocated to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico in October after Hurricane Maria destroyed their home in Canovanas.
Her family was luckier than many. They were able to ride out the devastating hurricane in a relative’s nearby home that wasn’t hit as hard as theirs. But, like so many on the island, they found themselves with no electricity and a frighteningly dwindling supply of food and water.
To make matters worse, Rodriguez, who worked for an airline specializing in flights to other Caribbean islands that were hit by hurricanes, was laid off, and weeks after the hurricane, Ismarie’s school still wasn’t close to reopening.
Tough decisions had to be made. Ismarie’s father, Luis Gomez, who still had his job at a water-treatment plant, would stay in Puerto Rico. Ismarie and her mom would head to relatives in South Philadelphia, where Ismarie enrolled in Performing Arts Charter School and Rodriguez in a training program in hopes of getting a job to support her and Ismarie.
The separation has been hard, especially for Ismarie. The other day a classmate asked her if her father was picking her up from school and Ismarie burst out crying. She misses him. But Ismarie, an only child, is enjoying her time with cousins and she loves her new school.
Teachers have rallied behind the family, donating clothes, a winter coat, and whatever items their student may need.
While giving Ismarie some of the things they had bought for her, school counselor Tina Lamonica and Ismarie got to talking about the importance of giving. That’s why, Lamonica explained, the school was also having a toy drive.
And that’s when this little girl said something that melted the counselor’s heart.
She and her mother had come with just one piece of luggage each. Besides the barest of essentials, Ismarie had been able to salvage just a few of her toys, including her beloved My Little Ponies.
She could donate her favorite. Yes, she’d be sad about it, Lamonica recalled Ismarie saying, “but I want to be generous.”
The counselor was moved. “Here’s this little girl who doesn’t have much, willing to give up what little she has,” she said.
She wasn’t the only one who was touched. In full disclosure, a colleague is married to one of her teachers. After he relayed the story, I got Ismarie a gift card and asked if I could meet her.
When I stopped by the other night and told her how inspiring her kindness was, she didn’t seem sure of what to make of me.
“It’s good to be nice,” she said.
When I asked her what it was about My Little Pony she likes so much, she answered quickly:
At that, her mom teared up.
So many in Puerto Rico are in need of a little magic. If she had some, Rodriguez mused, she’d wish the hurricane away and she and Ismarie and her husband would wake up together in their own home on Christmas morning. (Ismarie turns 9 the day after Christmas.)
Mom allowed herself a fleeting moment of sadness until she realized her daughter was intently watching her.
“It’s OK,” she said, smiling at Ismarie. “It will be OK.”
It may not always feel that way, but with people like Ismarie in the world, it’s easier to believe that not everything is awful.