A missing ring. A missing bird. A man to reunite them all

Nothing restores our faith in humanity like a story about people helping people

Nothing restores our faith in humanity like a story about people helping people when we, sadly, least expect it: someone finds a wallet full of money in the grocery store and takes it to customer service. A shopper receives too much cash back and alerts the cashier. An ATM malfunctions and dispenses multiple bills, so the customer returns them.

But what about someone who reunites people with things that have no real monetary value — because they are priceless? This Thanksgiving meet someone who has been quietly doing that for more than a decade.

I first met Greg Canders in 2012 when my husband, Dustin, was deployed overseas. Greg’s son, Zac, sent me an email and said he and his dad had Dustin’s lost wedding ring and wanted to return it. I didn’t believe them.

Dustin had lost his wedding band 13 months earlier, right before he left for a yearlong deployment, while our family was swimming in the rapids at the base of Mt. Katahdin. Dustin searched for the ring for about an hour, but the water churned like a washing machine, and eventually he conceded that it was lost forever.

“There’s no way,” Dustin told me, coming out of the water. “The ring is probably on its way down the Penobscot River by now.”

My eyes stung with tears as we drove away from the mountain. I knew it was “just” a ring, a mere piece of metal, but that band of gold represented 13 years of marriage, three children, two cross-country moves, four homes, five zip codes, and, most of all, the day in 1999 when we began our life together.

“We will replace the ring before I leave for deployment,” Dustin told me, but that didn’t help. A new ring would never be the same.

In 2011, I wrote a column about Dustin’s lost wedding ring and my struggle to accept that it’s just a symbol, nothing more.

Greg Canders a professional diver, read the column, clipped it from the newspaper, and saved it in a safe place. He told Zac that some day they would go to the spot I described at the base of Mt. Katahdin and find Dustin’s ring.

At this point, Greg and Zac had never met me or Dustin.

When Greg contacted me in 2012, I thought it was a hoax. I questioned his motives and only agreed to meet with him in the parking lot of a restaurant. I took my mother-in-law with me. So imagine my surprise — and regrets at my knee-jerk reactions — when Greg reached into his pocket and first pulled out my column from the year before and then pulled out Dustin’s wedding band. Dustin was still halfway around the world, but I was holding his ring —the one that had been lost, frozen over, thawed and frozen again — in the palm of my hand.

Despite the fact that Greg and Zac had traveled four hours out of their way and searched for the better part of an afternoon in frigid, rough water solely to find the ring, Greg wanted nothing in return. Nothing.

We did end up buying Dustin a replacement ring, but I still wear on my right hand the original one that Greg returned to us. Every time I see it, I’m reminded, of course, of my love for Dustin, but I’m also reminded of the goodness of people — people like Greg.

Turns out, Dustin’s ring wasn’t the first (or last) thing Greg found and returned. More than a decade earlier, he had searched the bottom of nearby Phillip’s Lake for a woman’s watch that had been missing for 68 years. He returned the watch to its owner on her 80th birthday, bringing back a flood of memories of her childhood growing up on the lake.

Then, earlier this month, I read a story in the newspaper about a local woman whose pet cockatiel went missing on Halloween night. It landed (you guessed it) in Greg Cander’s front yard. Greg spotted the bird in a tree on his property, and again with Zac’s help, climbed the tree to retrieve what he knew had to be someone’s pet. Greg was able to return the bird, named Golda, to her owner.

Perhaps by now you are thinking that Greg must like fame or attention. It’s hard to wrap our mind around someone being so altruistic. But I’ve spent time with Greg now, and I can tell you that he is one of the quietest, most humble men I’ve ever met. He just wants people to be reunited with their priceless belongings and memories.

We don’t often read about the Gregs of the world in newspapers. But they are there, quietly doing good deeds and expecting nothing in return. They are returning wallets, finding lost pets, and staying to help when it would have been easier to walk away.

On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful to all of them.