Apr 15, 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.  - Lao Tzu

One of the things I miss most about being young is being cluelessly fearless. Having not yet had the opportunity to learn so many brilliant lessons the "hard way" made that easy. I'm not sure that times were simpler, but I sure was - and it was during one such simpler time that I learned a profound lesson about kindness.

I was in my late teens and as I shared earlier , I owned an old Ford LTD held together by rust and hope. The hope was that it would actually start when I needed it most.

The schooling started one winter as I was traveling quite a distance from home through snowy woods to and from work. As I drove, from time to time, I'd hear a loud clunk from under the car and the steering would temporarily go haywire. "That can't be good." I remember thinking - but not having the money to do anything about it left no option but to carry on, so I did - for several weeks - hoping for the best.

One night I left work later than usual. It had been snowing heavily all day and was already dark. It didn't occur to me to be worried about traveling on the snowy roads through the woods at night alone (blissfully clueless) - but I did at least think "Maybe I should have that noise checked out " before starting the journey. 

Back in those days, most gas stations were also repair shops so I pulled into the first one that I found open. I parked the car and went inside to speak with the older gentleman who was the only one there. When I explained to him what had been happening, his face contorted into that puzzled "It's doing what?" look. He scratched his head and suggested that the only way to know for sure what was happening was to take a look underneath. He opened the service door and told me to "Pull 'er in." 

As I was "pulling 'er in" the familiar clunk sounded and the steering went out - heading me straight for the other door. Seeing what was happening, he suggested that maybe I should let him pull 'er in. Once inside, he put the old LTD on the lift and up she went. After surveying for just a few minutes, he asked me how long it had been acting this way. "A few weeks" I admitted. He was quiet for a time then said, "You need to go sit in the office there and thank God you're still alive. You've been driving around with a broken tie rod end." Having no idea what that meant, but seeing that he did and it indeed wasn't good, I did as I was told.

As I offered my prayer of gratitude for my safety, I also worried. I was supposed to have picked up my son from the babysitter an hour earlier and didn't have the sitter's phone number with me,(no cellphones with contact lists back then.) I had no idea how long the repair would take but knew I had another 45 minutes to add to that for drive time on good roads. Considering the extra time the snow would add poured anxiety gravy onto the mound of worry.

I also knew that I didn't have the money the repair was going to cost no matter how little or much it might end up being. I didn't have a credit card. Not many people did back then and if I wrote a check for the repair I'd have to also pray he didn't drop it because it would have bounced like a Super-ball.

A few minutes later he joined me in the office and asked if I thought I could watch the shop and pump gas while he went to the hardware store to find the bolt he needed to repair the trouble. I assured him I could and off he went. Before long, he was back and working feverishly under the LTD. About an hour later, he came in and told me that it was fixed but suggested that I try to have a better job done on it as soon as I could.

I thanked him profusely and asked him how much I owed him and if I could possibly pay him in installments each time I got paid. He smiled and said. "Just forget about it. You don't owe me a dime."

I couldn't believe what I'd just heard! This man, a complete stranger had not only just fixed my car, but had put himself out to do it - and wasn't going to charge me a dime?!" My heart was filled with more gratitude for him and his kindness than it had even been for my own safety an hour before!

That was decades ago and I'm sure that if he's still alive, that gentleman has no idea that something that he did for a clueless young woman would so profoundly touch her, that she would share the story of his kindness time and time again and would eventually even write about it.

I can't be sure that I don't owe that man my life. How can I know what would have happened if I'd continued on that night without stopping? How can I be sure I'd ever have picked up my son or would even be here to share this? How can we ever know how important an act of kindness on our behalf really is? How can we measure the value of a kind act that we offer another?

Could there be someone out there today telling others of a kind deed that we performed maybe decades ago? Is there somewhere a heart filled with gratitude because we cared enough to help?
If we can't answer yes or at least maybe to those two questions, then maybe the bigger question is WHY NOT?

If life depended on the kindness of a stranger, could we be that stranger?

Photo Credit: Vladimir Pavlovic


  1. Oh Anita!! I LOVE this!!! So beautiful! He was a true angel. You made me recall a story of my own - one I have re-told a hundred times...For several months after I lost my unborn baby, I would still get ads and coupons in the mail from baby stores and formula and diaper brands. It was awful to look through my mail and have the daily reminder in my face of all I had lost. In moments of anger, I would scribble across the mailer - "Return to Sender. Please remove me from your mailing list. My baby is DEAD." I must have done this at least a dozen times. One Saturday morning, when I was out, my husband saw our mail carrier. She told him "I'm so sorry for your loss. Whenever I see baby mailers for you, I toss them out. If you get any, please know that it's not me delivering them." When I came home and my husband told me what the mail carrier had been doing, I burst into tears. I drove around my neighborhood until I found her. I wept as I thanked her for her kindness and compassion. She didn't save my life, but she saved me from heartbreak and sadness. I hope I have also been that stranger to someone in a time of need.

    1. Please forgive my late reply. I've been out of town for 2 funerals. Thank you also for sharing your story. Having been through something similar I understand that feeling of dashed expectations and painful reminders. It's hard to imagine how the kindness of a single person can do so much to right the world sometimes, but as we've both learned it's possible. Let's live our lives to pay that kindness forward! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  2. Wow, TWO great stories for the price of one, Anita and DanceLaughLuv - both brought tears.