Thank you note reunites judge and Austin man with a message
The power of thank you will connect a Williamson County judge and an Austin man for the rest of their lives.
In one of the busiest courtrooms in the state, tough decisions come with the territory but some have a bigger impact than others.
"I walked out and had three or four of my staff members all huddled together crying. And I thought, what happened?" said Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell.
Michael Sabra got a speeding ticket more than two years ago on the then-brand new stretch of 183 through Williamson County. He missed his defensive driving requirement and ended up in front of Judge Gravell.
"He may have been on the longest defensive driving plan in the state of Texas history but I think it was maybe the most important one ever," said Judge Gravell.
At his Austin home, Sabra showed a picture of his wife Lisa holding their oldest son Bowen on a Saturday morning. Her expression full of contentment. It's one of his favorite memories. Sabra's wife and mother of his two children was diagnosed with Leukemia only months after having their second child.
"When she was diagnosed it was unfathomable that she would die. The thought didn't even cross my mind," said Sabra.
Michael's life and love, consumed by the fight that would last 15 months.
"We started doing a puzzle on a window sill (at MD Anderson in Houston). There was a 30-day post-bone marrow transplant visit. Everything looked like it had succeeded and we were very excited and that was day 60. We went in and learned it was an abysmal failure and the cancer was back in force. We came out and we both walked right up to that puzzle that we had started and we just held each other's hand and we didn't say a word. We just did that puzzle and finished it and stood there for an hour without saying a word to each other. We were so connected. I'll never forget that," said Sabra.
It during a trip to MD Anderson that Sabra realized he never completed defensive driving for the speeding ticket he got shortly before Lisa's diagnosis. He called the judge's office and was told he needed to make an appearance to explain.
Instead of fines or fees for missing the deadline, the judge gave Michael a two-year extension to complete defensive driving so he could focus on his family.
"That gave me six hours to be with my wife while she was still alive. That gave me six hours to be with my kids when they needed me most," said Sabra.
Something Michael will never forget.
"The feeling he gave me was one of true empathy," said Sabra.
One year ago in March, Lisa Sabra passed away.
"I heard her take her last breath. She just stopped breathing. I leaned down to kiss her and hold her and a force pulled me up to my feet and I felt this energy surround me," said Sabra.
Michael's year since her death focused on Lisa's legacy and sharing her kindness.
"To the best of my ability teaching them to be kind," Sabra said about raising his boys.
"It was her spirit and the words weren't said but the feeling was she was okay and that I and the boys were going to be okay and it was just strength and peace," said Sabra.
Michael wrote a modest thank you note to Judge Gravell for giving him time.
"It was humbling. It was overwhelming," said Judge Gravell.
The Sabra's delivered the note and defensive driving paperwork to Judge Gravell's office but missed seeing the judge.
"It reminded me too that in our world somewhere along the line, we've lost kindness and compassion," said Judge Gravell.
"There are so many good people out there and some that don't get thanked," said Sabra.
CBS Austin asked Michael to come with us to reunite with Judge Gravell for the first time since that day in court.
"I'm here to say thank you in person," said Sabra as he walked into the judge's office. The men hugged and then sat down to talk about kindness and Lisa.
"That's the most difficult part of being a judge. How do you protect the people by preserving and protecting the law but having Grace," said Judge Gravell.
"I think that's what made Lisa such a kind person. Grace. That's the word. Grace," said Sabra.
Years ago, the 22nd busiest judicial court in the state decided its theme would be kindness matters. That's why a thank you note from Michael meant more than expected.
"For every 50 complaints or problems we have when I see one person where we handled it right, that's humbling. Kindness does matter," said Judge Gravell.
It seems Lisa would agree. Michael has never been able to see his wife in a dream until a few days before our interview.
"I want this to make me a better person and I want to carry her legacy," said Sabra. But he misses her tremendously.
"This weekend I saw her in a dream for the first time. It gave me strength," said Sabra.
"I think the amazing story is a dad with two toddlers who's lost his wife, the love of his life but yet with perseverance and endurance he's striving everyday to bring those kids up. That's a hero to me," said Judge Gravell.