I think I will be revisiting this subject this month, but for now I have only a tiny window of time between obligations today, so I'll be uncharacteristically brief. I will pose a question to you, Dear Readers: when have you experienced the kindness of strangers? Please share your favorite anecdote on the topic.
Today in my writing class, one of my students told a beautiful story about she and her husband picking up a hippie hitchhiker on vacation when they were first married. They had been fighting about money, and my student thought she wanted a divorce, to get out while the getting was good. This stranger sensed the tension in the car and ended up counseling them to rethink the situation. Which they did, and they're still married. To this day, she believes they were visited by some kind of angel that day. Pretty cool, even if I was skeptical.
It's surprising when strangers decide to help you out when there's no visible benefit to them. When I lived in Northampton, MA--a big town with a small town vibe--it was very hard to get around town in icy winter. Sometimes I would be racing around the slick, snowy streets, desperately trying to finish my shopping before my meter ran out. Often I wouldn't make it. But sometimes I would come back to the car expecting a ticket and see that I had an hour left. Meaning some kind soul had noticed my meter had expired, and decided to save me a ticket. Just because. I would stand there in front of my unticketed car, breathing my frosty breath into my scarf, agog. Someone did this expecting no thanks, no recognition. That's pretty amazing.
One time, in San Diego about 10 years ago, I had jury duty and decided to take the trolley rather than try to park downtown. Only I didn't do that very often, and didn't know that some stations don't have anyone working there. I had no cash, and the machine didn't take cards. I stood there, heart pounding, watching the train pulling into the station, knowing I was going to miss it, knowing I was going to be late. And then a woman about my age swooped in front of me, popped four dollars into the machine, and bought me a ticket. I was so surprised I almost didn't thank her.
When I got on the train, she had an empty seat next to her, so I sat down and thanked her properly. She had long, brown braids and a beautiful smile, dressed very casually. I don't remember why she was headed downtown. When I said how kind she was, she waved dismissively: "Not at all. I can tell you would have done the exact same thing."
The thing is, I'm not sure I would have. It was such a decisive, instantaneous gesture. I always think of these things much later. She just went for it. I admired that. I asked how I could pay her back, and she said if I really wanted to, she was in Balboa Park every Sunday afternoon for the drumming circle next to Pepper Grove. And I meant to go, I really did. I thought about it often over the years.
But I never did go. And I never paid her back. I'm terrible. I'm still grateful to her, though.