The Kindness of Strangers: Three short stories

We see so much harshness in the news and on social media these days. These viral videos range from merely rude to downright criminal. Whether the acts we see represent pent-up frustration, or permission to be cruel from those in power, or original sin, it’s ugly.

I remind myself often that people can be equally kind, even if it isn’t always noticed. In fact, acts of kindness may be underreported because they are more common. At least, that’s what I’d like to believe.

I try to think back to times when strangers gone out of their way to be kind to me. Here are three examples.

  1. When I was small, my mother had a problem with abusing prescription drugs. There is much context I won’t go into here. When she had a supply of pills, she would sometimes flee the inevitable wrath of my father, put my brother and me in the car and hit the road. One particularly harrowing time, she took us to a motel where we spent about 36 scary hours, not knowing how it would all end.
    One time, she packed us up to drive to her mother’s house in Georgia. She was heavily drugged and I’m sure it showed in how she was driving. After we had been on the interstate for a couple of hours, a drama ensued, one which I remember well to this day.
    Some truckers must have noticed this woman on the highway with two small children, driving erratically, swerving in and out. At one point, trucks surrounded our car, with one in front, one on the side, and one in back. By motioning to my mother and making it clear she had no choice, they led her off to a truck stop. I didn’t hear all the conversation, but they told her that she needed to sleep it off, and they instructed the truck stop manager what was going on.
    While my brother and I waited, my mother slept on a couch. I’m not sure to what degree she had cleared her head when she awoke, but I’ve never forgotten the noble intentions of those men.
  2. When I was young, I was at the drug store, staring at a particular toy that I had studied many times before. It wasn’t too extravagant, but it wasn’t something that I would have had the money to buy.
    A fellow who was a few years older than me came in. My desire for that toy must have been written all over my face because he asked me about it. I told him how much I wanted it, but that I didn’t have anywhere near the money. With no prompting, her offered to buy it for me and did just that. I thanked him profusely. Over the years, I would see him occasionally, but I don’t think we ever spoke; he was about four years older, which is a lot when you’re about eight years old.
  3. Not too long ago, I was driving to work on the highway when a hay bale fell off a truck. I didn’t have time to avoid it, so my small sports car hit the bale and tore up the front fascia. At that point, it dragged the ground and made an awful, embarrassing racket.
    As I made my way home, I pulled in a gas station and all eyes were on my noisy car. A man made his way over to me and asked what had happened. After I told him, he asked if I had a shoelace. I found one and gave it to him. He squatted down and figured out a clever way to tie up the damaged part using the string. I felt so humbled that he had taken his time to do this, especially for a stranger.

I bet you can think of times when strangers have done you unmerited favors. Let these buoy your spirit. Even better, let us be the strangers who leave a kind memory for others.

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