"Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow." ~ Helen Keller

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

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As Blanche DuBois so poignantly stated at the end of "A Streetcar Named Desire,"

"Whoever you are...I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Haven't we all?

As children we were always taught "don't talk to strangers!" But how do we know a good stranger from a bad one? I was just reading an article written by an an expert in the behavior of predators who target kids. He said that telling children not to talk to strangers is a profoundly bad idea. Though this may sound counter-intuitive, listen to his reasoning. He said if a child is in danger or trouble and seeks out an adult to help them, most people will be glad to help, because it was the child who initiated the contact. However, if an adult approaches the child, they may very well be up to no good. His point: Most of the population are regular people who are glad to help a child or anyone, if they can.

This reminds me of a time when my oldest boy was just a little three year old shopping in a huge K-Mart with his dad and somehow got separated. He looked around and realized his dad was no where in sight, while his dad meanwhile was frantically looking for him. He instinctively knew to pray and asked God to send him someone to help him find his daddy. Within seconds he spotted a man in a red vest and told him he was lost. They walked a few aisles together and soon father and son were happily reunited.

There have been so many times in my life where help has come from people I did not know, and at a time when I needed it most. In my experience, "strangers" can be some of the kindest and most helpful people you will ever meet.

I recently had to spend a few days in the hospital due to surgery and I just felt awful. From the moment I walked into the emergency room at 3:00 in the morning, "strangers" at the hospital started caring for me. From the nurses, to my awesome ER doctor, to Mike, the guy who repeatedly wheeled me around to my various destinations; these were some of the kindest, sweetest people I have ever encountered.

I had the same nurse taking care of me each day, a wonderful Southern lady named Edna, who fussed over me like a mother hen. I felt so incredibly safe and cared for. Her gentle and sweet spirit was such a comfort to me when I was hurting and sick. It was obvious she was not only very good at her job, but she truly enjoyed helping people.

Not long ago, my children and I were driving in my husband's diesel truck and ran completely out of gas. I ran out right at the stop light by the gas station during the middle of rush hour traffic and could not get the truck restarted. I could tell the kids were getting a little freaked out, as people honked horns and voiced their displeasure as they angrily drove around us. In the midst of the chaos we took a moment to pray and ask God for help. Less than a minute later I heard a knock on the window. It was a young man with a friendly smile who said, "Ya'll look like you could use some help."

As it turned out, this young man ended up towing us to the gas station and working on our truck for more than three hours trying to get it started. His name was Brandon and he was an absolute angel. Other men gathered around to look under the hood and try to help, all to no avail. Brandon graciously offered to drive us home after he had stayed well into the evening to help us, missing dinner and time with his wife.

The next day I realized my keys were missing and couldn't for the life of me figure out where I had left them. I had to use my other car anyway because the truck was still broken. I drove to a mechanic up the road from where the truck was stranded and told him about the problem and he said "Let's go take a look." He opened the hood and within minutes had the truck started and running. I was amazed! I asked him what I owed him, and he just grinned and said, "Oh, don't worry about it, it was nothin." It was a BIG something to me since my husband was working far away in another state. He told me to have a nice day before he drove off with my thanks but nothing else.

When I arrived home I noticed my missing keys had been placed between my glass storm door and my door with a note that said, "You left these in my truck.  -Brandon." He had made another trip out to our home in the country to bring me my keys. He certainly did not seem like a stranger. Neither did the sweet gentleman who fixed our truck for free. Nor did any of those folks at the hospital.

Yes, like Blanche, I too have been blessed repeatedly by the kindness of strangers. The best way I know to pay those folks back for their kindness is to treat others exactly as they have treated me...to seize any opportunity that comes my way to be good to someone. That old golden rule our parents and Sunday School teachers taught us really is the best way to live. We get back exactly what we give out.

Just a reminder, every friend was a stranger once, until you got to know them.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me."
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

 And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Matthew 24:34-40 New Living Translation