The other day I was at the Cabin Coffeehouse in Bemidji. I met a new friend for the first time and was jazzed about all that we had in common. Just as I was getting ready to leave, I saw a father and his little girl trying to resolve the restroom dilemma. Dad wanted to take her into the men's room, but the little girl was not okay with that. She was probably about 4 or so and smart enough to know the difference. I offered to go into the women's room with her, and the girl agreed that would work. She had on a little pink dress that looked like a ballet tutu--very cute. She did her business, washed her hands carefully and then we went out again. Dad was so thankful that I had helped out. Just for fun I went and got my little bag of Bead People from our peace project and let her choose one. Unfortunately, I didn't have any more of the story books with me, but she picked out a sparkling little Bead Person that perfectly matched her dress. It was sweet.
As I was leaving I heard the dad tell his little girl that this was a "random act of kindness."
I liked that. I can count the many times that a stranger has helped me out. I sometimes think there is a road angel who, every time I have a flat tire or car trouble, he (or she) sends me help within five minutes. The news would have us distrust all strangers—but sometimes we need help. Living in constant fear of the bad guys is not for me.
I decided a long time ago that the only way to fight our fear of strangers is to be the stranger. I don’t want to wait for that moment of crisis when I need help and a kind stranger comes through for me. I want to be the stranger. I am working to widen my field of awareness and be a bit less self-obsessed and a lot more observant. I look for ways that I can help someone else out. It doesn't have to be jumping off a bridge to save a drowning child—although that is certainly a worthy move. Personally, I tend to notice Moms trying to navigate the world with a baby, car carrier, diaper bag, purse, and too much on their minds. If I can hold a door, remove an obstacle, or entertain a toddler while Mommy pays for her groceries—I do it.
We could all be on the lookout for ways to be the kind stranger. It doesn't cost anything. It takes little time. And it doesn't just help the person receiving the gift—it makes us feel good, too. I’m concerned that we seem to becoming more and more isolated from one another. I grew up in the tiny mining town of Babbitt where community was everything. We were isolated already by being so far north and dependent upon one another. The mom’s in my neighborhood spent their days helping one another in all kinds of ways whether it was a hot cup of coffee across the kitchen table or watching each other’s little ones.
I remember when my son was just a tike we lived in this big fenced neighborhood in Tucson. One day I caught Tom and the little boy next door playing through a knothole in a fence. That seemed so sad to me that I moved a few months later into a trailer park full of kids.
I want to be the stranger. I want to be the kind of stranger who plops a quarter in someone’s expired meter, who opens a door and holds it until that person in a wheelchair or that harried mom has cleared the door. I want to be the stranger who resists coming down on the waitress when my food is cold or the service slow. I want to be the stranger that smiles at someone realizing that once we have exchanged a smile and a greeting, we are strangers no more.
I want to be that stranger.