Blanche DuBois, in “A Streetcar Named Desire” made what is now a very famous comment, in which she says “I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.” It seems in today’s society the kindness of strangers is a forgotten commodity, but here in Montana, I have discovered that it is not entirely forgotten, that basic human decency exists.
It was a hot day yesterday, and I was determined to better my time on my five mile walk. It has taken me some time to actually be able to walk that far, and I didn’t want to miss a day to improve my pace or my distance, to go a little farther each day. I did, however, forget to take into account that not only am I at a high altitude, but yesterday was 94 degrees. The first two and a half miles weren’t too bad. Until I ran out of water. When I turned around to go back to my dorm, it seemed that it got hotter, and the trail got longer. I finally broke down and stopped at a tackle store where they make fishing flies by hand, and the store was staffed entirely by women (which is cool, right? Women tying flies all day?)
I asked for tap water. The lady took one look at me and said “Have you got any money?” Of course I hadn’t got any money with me, I don’t carry my wallet when I walk! I was ready to leave thinking that I wouldn’t get a cup of water there when suddenly she turned to the pop cooler, took out a large bottle of water, and handed it to me. “Here. Take this. You really need it on a day like today.”
I was blown away. She didn’t know if she’d ever see me again to pay her for it, and hell, let’s face it. She didn’t know me from Adam. I took the water in a little bit of shock at this unexpected kindness, and my body was certainly grateful for it, and on the rest of the walk home, I thought about how little it costs all of us to extend a kindness, and how very rare it is that people do extend a kindness anymore.
I don’t know. Maybe we’re afraid. We’re certainly afraid to pick up a hitchhiker, and for good reason, I suppose. We’re afraid to let a stranger use our phone. We’re afraid to talk to the person right next to us. We’re afraid of religions different from our own. We’re afraid of people who don’t live like we do, or hold the same values that we do. In this country that touts itself on being so brave, we are certainly a country that is afraid, and we blast our fears on the news headlines every day–the threat of wars, of invisible terrorists, of religions we don’t understand. And even though Christianity demands of adherents that we show kindness and generosity to the strangers among us, very few of us actually follow that admonition.
Except for this lady who gave with no expectation of anything in return.
So today I went back to that tackle shop, with its ladies tying flies, and I paid for that bottle of water, and thanked the lady who gave it to me, because I in turn would like to show her that gratitude is not dead, that people exist who will gladly acknowledge a kindness and pay one in return.
Don’t wait for someone to be kind to you–show them kindness first. Blow them away with your humanity. Imagine if all of us did that, showed kindness to the people who we are most suspicious of in our society–the Muslim, the foreigner–we might all be surprised at just how kind they really are.
And the next time I go fly fishing, that tackle store is the only place I’m going to get my flies.