Anonymous letter sender tries to make past wrong right

Published 9:50 am Wednesday, March 4, 2015

NW0304 Remorseful Shoplifter

An effort to make things right for a wrong committed more than 40 years ago was “paid forward” to help many more people in Carter County.

A few weeks ago, Bill Carter, owner of Ladybug Antiques, received an anonymous letter containing $20 and an explanation for the money.

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“In the 1970s as a kid I stole a little notebook and address labels from the Eagle Store,” the letter said. “I want to repay and try to make right what I did.”

The writer said he did not live in Elizabethton anymore and did not know whether the owner of the building was still the same. The writer asked the recipient to pass the payment on to the owner of the Eagle Store or use it as he liked if he did not know who the previous owner was.

Ladybug Antiques is located in the old Eagle Store building.

“I think this person is clearing their conscience,” Carter said. “Apparently, it has been on their mind for years.”

Dr. Jameson Hirsch, a psychologist and associate professor at East Tennessee State University, agreed that forgiveness could have been a major motivation for the letter’s sender. Understanding specific reasons for the letter would be difficult to without talking to the sender, Hirsch said, but there are some common reasons why someone would take steps to right a wrong after many years.

“It is not uncommon for kids to experiment with stealing,” Hirsch said. “One thing that occurs in the process of moral development is the realization of what is right and what is wrong. A person develops remorse for the situation and starts to feel a responsibility for what happened. As they get older, they develop empathy and gain a sense of how the person on the other side of the issue may have felt. ”

The sender could have felt guilty about shoplifting the items for years, and then a specific event happened that triggered the need to seek forgiveness, Hirsch said. The person could have renewed or developed religious beliefs, or the issue had been weighing on his mind and the person wanted relief from feelings of guilt.

Another possibility is the person was on a path to right wrongs in the past as a way of “self-healing” or the person could have had something stolen from them.

“This story resonates with a lot of people,” Hirsch said. “Many people have regrets from the past that they would like to make right, but why are there some that do try and others that do not? There are so many things that play into this. For this person, it appears they got to a point in their life where they wanted to do something to make it right. They wanted to do something to amend that wrong.”

Since Carter had no way of contacting the owners of the Eagle store, he chose to donate the $20 to the Elizabethton/Carter County United Way.

“It’s a worthy cause and they do a lot of good work in the community,” he said. “I hope whoever sent the letter will see this and have peace of mind about it.”

ECCUW Director Cheri Tinney said the story behind the donation was heart-warming.

“It is such a wonderful story, and it touches my heart,” she said. “It is great after all this time they tried to do this, and it is great Mr. Carter is paying it forward to help other people.”