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The end of a year is a good time to take stock of the past 12 months.

How can we summarize 2017? For certain there were tragedies and heartache, but the year also had lighter moments, like the fidget spinner fad, and rarities, such as the solar eclipse and a royal wedding announcement.

For me, several days in 2017 were brightened by hearing from you. Many of you took the time to send an email or sit down with an actual pen and paper to share your thoughts about this column. Some notes offered an opposing view and many featured stories of your own.

Readers described details on topics from wearing favorite old clothes to buying a portable toilet for their vehicles. When I wrote about holidays without loved ones, dozens of readers opened up about their own experiences. I was honored you shared your memories with me.

I try to respond to mail, but must confess I’m not very good at it. Work and home obligations take priority and, well, you know how it goes. But I value each and every note.

Most readers seem to like “feel good” stories.

“I get tired of hearing bad things in the news all the time,” one of you said.

Last week, I wrote a Christmas story about lending a helping hand to a man in need. Your response was overwhelming – and humbling. So many of you shared similar stories that I thought, What better way to end 2017 than with one more “good news” story?

This one is from Jim in Normal. And what a small world it is: turns out his wife and I went to summer camp together 40 years ago.

Here’s his story:

“I’m not a particularly religious sort, but your story reminded me of something that has been a traditional Christmas story for my family every year as we decorate our tree.

“In 1999 or 2000, I was doing a lot of running on Constitution Trail. Often, I would see an elderly gentleman walking on the trail and say ‘hi’ to him. He would say ‘hello’ back, but I could tell he wasn’t there for fitness or passing time. He seemed like he was lonely and may not have had a lot of money. I remember even in the summer he wore a tattered winter coat. Somehow in our brief conversations I learned he lived in an apartment complex in downtown Bloomington.

"At some point, my wife and I took treats to the complex. Although we didn’t see the gentleman, we left the treats at the front desk. Weeks later, I saw him on the trail and I asked him if he got the treats. He didn’t say much, but from that old tattered coat he pulled out a small object and handed it to me. It was a Christmas ornament, Snoopy on top of his doghouse. It had a tag on it that appeared to come from a secondhand store or maybe a garage sale. It said '25 cents.'

"I can only imagine how he got this or why he carried it around with him. Maybe he gave many of these away during his walks. But it has become one of our most treasured ornaments. We always talk about this story and how it touched us when we hang the ornament every year. Our daughter is 22 years old now. The story of an elderly man doing something for us touched her as well.”

Jim says he didn’t see the gentleman much after that year. He thinks about him often and remembers the stranger’s caring gesture.

To each of you, I hope your 2018 is filled with many moments of kindness and plenty of “good news” stories.

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Contact Susan Hazlett at susanrhazlett@yahoo.com or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.

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