Jason Wright: The principle of forgiveness

Jason Wright

Dr. Kim Roberts of Salt Lake City and Robert Hanna of Denison, Texas, have never met. Instead, they’re linked by two letters and bonded by a brick.

In 1973, Roberts was serving as a Mormon 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 some of the bricks were stamped with the words, “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk.”

Roberts decided he needed a souvenir. He pried one loose and later learned the unusual bricks had been laid at the turn of the century to remind citizens they could reduce the spread of tuberculosis by not spitting on the ground.

He was proud of his unique souvenir and it served as a great conversation starter. But as the years passed, the brick became 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.”

One Sunday in church, during a lesson on honesty, he knew he couldn’t wait any longer. “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.”

Roberts knew that mailing back a 110-year-old bubble-wrapped brick wasn’t enough. He needed to write a letter seeking 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.

“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. “This is a one in a million thing. We have street signs, stop signs, you name it, stolen all the time.”

Hanna could not stop thinking about the gesture. “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, wow.”

Ten days later after it arrived, Roberts sat at his desk and penned a reply. It read, in part:

 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).


 Robert Hanna

Back in Utah, Roberts was filled with the peace he’d longed for. But it wasn’t about a brick. It was about the principle of forgiveness.

When the men were asked what they hope people will remember about their inspiring story, both said it’s never too late to give up the bricks in our lives, 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.

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at feedback@jasonfwright.com or http://www.jasonfwright.com