The Kindness of Strangers

I was flying across the country to spend the summer with a friend. I was 17 years old and it was my first time flying alone. The trip was uneventful until we landed in Boston. I had a connecting flight to Portland and when we arrived I discovered that because of weather, my flight had been cancelled. I had no idea what to do. In a time before cell phones I stood in the airport and wondered how I could even find a phone to call my parents. I lined up with all the other stranded people at the ticket counter evidently looking as overwhelmed as I felt. A woman who had been on the flight with me struck up a conversation and mentioned that she was going to rent a car and drive to Portland and would I like to come along? I tell this story and feel incredulous that I would even have contemplated taking her up on her invitation. But I didn’t know what to do and this kind woman offered help, so I took it. I don’t know when she told me this, but this woman was one of the national Girl Scout leaders at the time – I like to think she gave me some credentials before I got in a car with her. Who knows? Maybe she even talked to my parents on the phone before we left. All I remember is how grateful I was that she saw a need and stepped in to help.

When I travelled to Germany a few years later I spent a week riding the Deutsche Bahn and staying in youth hostels. On my way to Saltzburg I struck up a conversation with a guy who was from the city. He spent a few hours showing me around some of his favorite spots and made me feel welcome. Another day I made friends with a couple as we were riding north towards the town I would be working in. Later that summer, this couple traveled to see me and find out how things were going. It was so fun to see familiar faces. And I can’t forget Frau Neumann, who patiently and kindly corrected my German and invited me to her home for a party and made me feel welcome at my job, despite my rudimentary language skills.

I could make a long list of kindnesses I have received in my life – the extra money sent anonymously when Tom was out of work – the treats left on my porch on a day when I was feeling down – the person who stopped to pick me up when my car slid into a snow bank. Some of the gestures have been huge and some have been simple but they have all reminded me of the good that is in this world.

Lately I’ve felt overwhelmed by all the contention I see around me – especially on my Facebook feed. But it occurs to me that I can focus on spreading kindness. Amelia Earhart famously said, “No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.”  

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