It’s a beautiful feeling when your faith in people is affirmed, whether it be by a small gesture that staves off inconvenience or one that speaks to a life-or-death situation.
While on vacation last week at Lake Tahoe, I experienced an act of kindness from strangers that, in a way, fits both of those descriptions.
Here’s what happened. Before my family and I headed out for a day on the water, I decided, foolishly, to leave my wallet at the south shore home my family rented. I put my bank card in my front pocket with my driver’s license, which I rarely do.
The card was there in my pocket when we arrived at Zephyr Beach. It was there as we staked out a spot in the shade. It was there as I stood in clear and cool water, the perfect antidote to Sacramento’s sweltering summer heat.
Later, I reached into my pocket again. My driver’s license was there. The two $10 bills were there. But the bank card had disappeared.
I retraced my steps from the car. I rummaged through our beach bag, depositing everything onto the sand, to the chagrin of my spouse. I checked the bank app on my iPhone for illegal activity, remembering another card stolen from our family that was used to charge thousands of dollars in goods.
I thought the worst, but held off calling the bank when the app showed no initial activity on the card. Canceling the card would mean having to redo several automatic payments linked to it – a big pain.
But did I really bring my bank card to the beach? Or had I left it at the house?
We went back to our rental, but the card wasn’t there. I called the restaurant where we had eaten the night before. No luck. I called the supermarket where we had bought food and instead got put on hold for a considerable amount of time and then transferred to a number that no one answered.
I was just about to call the bank when I checked my email, more as an act of procrastination than a gesture of hope.
But hope is what I found. Gregory Cleveland and his wife Lisa, Folsom residents, had found my card floating in Lake Tahoe. With the help of Rick Kraus of Grass Valley, who also reads The Bee, they recognized my name and photo and figured out how to contact me.
It turned out Cleveland owned a cabin less than four minutes from where I was staying. He declined my offer to buy him a beer as I retrieved my card at his place. He had company coming over and didn’t have time. Besides, he said, he didn’t want anything in return.
“I would hope that someone would do the same for me,” Cleveland said.
It was just a gesture of goodwill. Nothing more, nothing less. Cleveland’s life has been filled with them since June 27, when his son-in-law was shot in the face.
His son-in-law, you see, is Alex Ladwig, the young Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy who was grievously wounded during a confrontation at a light-rail station at Interstate 80 in North Highlands. A four-year veteran of the department, Ladwig, 25, was attacked after having a conversation with the suspect, Nicory Marquis Spann, 27.
As reporter Cathy Locke wrote in The Bee: “A review of video from a camera at the light-rail station showed Ladwig’s initial contact with Spann was peaceful until Spann jumped up from a seated position and attacked Ladwig. At some point, Spann allegedly was able to get Ladwig’s service weapon and used it to fire two shots, one of which hit the deputy in the face.”
Spann was apprehended hours later at a nearby hotel after a massive manhunt. He was charged with attempted murder.
Cleveland’s quiet life and that of his family was upended in one fateful moment. Cleveland is a workers’ compensation judge for the State of California. His daughter Ellyse, 25, has been married to Officer Ludwig for just shy of four years.
Cleveland said he loves the peace of Lake Tahoe, loves his family, works out to keep himself fit, is a good San Jose State Spartan who graduated from my alma mater in 1981, five years before me.
When he found my card in the water, he and his wife Lisa immediately began calling out my name to see if I was around, Kraus said in an email. “They are a really nice couple from Folsom,” he wrote. “I wouldn’t worry about your card.”
Some things in life can’t be explained. How can you have a nice, quiet life one moment and then be told your daughter’s husband has been shot in the face?
It has been a harrowing experience, Cleveland said. But also one redeemed by hope. In the weeks since his son-in-law’s incident, Cleveland said he has been heartened by spontaneous expressions of faith and kindness shared with him by friends, family and colleagues.
One of Cleveland’s co-workers told him that he belongs to Family Community Church on Watt Avenue in North Highlands. Cleveland learned that the entire congregation there had stopped their services to pray for the fallen officer the night after he was shot.
This bolstered Cleveland’s belief in humanity. Cleveland said his daughter had remarked to him that she felt uplifted after hearing that Herb Holloway, a light-rail passenger, had run to the aid of Officer Ladwig without stopping to consider the danger. In addition, a Go Fund Me site has raised more than $68,000 to help in Ladwig’s recovery.
On Monday, I talked to Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones who said Ladwig was in good spirits. The sheriff said he was buoyed by the notion that the deputy and his wife were not considering themselves unlucky because of what had happened. They were considering themselves lucky because Ladwig, who has since been released from the hospital, survived.
“That is absolutely the right way to look at it,” Jones said.
Said Cleveland: “We are pretty darn proud of how both of them have handled the whole situation.”
The night Cleveland returned the bank card, I used it to pay for a lovely dinner for my family. It was one of those gorgeous Tahoe evenings, and we were all safe and happy to be together as a family. It was a memory made possible by people recovering from a terrible moment that threatened their own family.
We never know when our lives will be challenged, but it’s comforting to know there are still good people out there, and more often then not, they are willing to help others with gestures both small and big.