Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

A friend of my daughter-in-law posted this on Facebook yesterday:

“Are there any people out there that you can trust anymore? People that do their best not to lie. People that don’t cheat on the ones that love them. People who are honest. People who don’t intentionally hurt you. Cause I don’t see any.”

Of course, the woman who posted that wasn’t looking in the mirror, because SHE is a person like that.  She’s a great mom, and a loyal friend, who’s trustworthy enough for my daughter-in-law (nicknamed “Mama Bear” for her protectiveness toward my grandchildren — a trait for which I am profoundly grateful) to allow her to drive them across country.  But in the midst of a bad break-up, I fear that she’s lost sight of her own best qualities, and fallen for the common misperception that people are somehow less trustworthy or less helpful than they were in the past.

“I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers,” Blanche DuBois said (in A streetcar Named Desire).  And I have, too.

It isn’t that I’m naive, or naturally trusting.  It’s just that over and over in my life, I’ve been the beneficiary of the kindnesses of strangers and casual acquaintances.  Not once or twice, but so many times I’ve lost count. 

Here’s a partial list of the people who have proved to me that there is goodness, kindness, and trustworthiness out in the world. The experiences are in no particular order — and I’m not even going to TRY to list all of the examples from my own life. 

Why am I making this list?  As a way to remind myself (or anyone else who doubts it) that bad people do not outnumber the good, and that the headlines are news simply because outrageous, bad behavior remains abnormal.

  • My parents had a checking account that required the signatures of “Mr. AND Mrs.”  I’d tried for 20 years to get my mother to change that after my dad’s first stroke, but she refused.  On the day he died, she had one check with his scrawled signature on it.  Knowing that it would be weeks (if not months) before she could get through probate, she went to the bank and pulled out every dollar they had using that check.  Then she went to the courthouse to file the death certificate…leaving her keys, and a car with an envelope filled with every dollar she had on the front seat of her old car.  When she came out, the parking lot attendant was sitting on top of her car, handing out tickets and collecting parking fees from his perch.  He asked her to count the money right then, so she would know it was all there.  I went back the next day, to offer him a reward or at least a tip, but this minimum-wage immigrant said no.  “That lady, she was crying.  She needs that money.” 
  • I broke up with a boyfriend many years ago who reacted by breaking several bones in my face.  I looked like I’d been sparring with a heavyweight boxer…and I looked that way for months, as the doctors rebuilt my face, breaking and re-breaking the bits until it was (mostly) back to normal.  I lost count of the men — often wearing biker colors, hard hats, or work boots — who stopped me to ask if I was ok, and if I needed anything.  Waitresses and shop clerks offered me discounts or a place to stay if I needed it.  When I was ready to go home to Texas from California, my ex-husband flew out to drive back with me so I wouldn’t be alone.  It was nearly 15 years later when I found out that he’d lost his job as a result of taking time off for that trip — he never mentioned it.
  • When my granddaughter was born 21 years ago with a bad heart, I asked for time off to sit at the hospital with my 19-year-old son and his 17-year-old girlfriend, because she wasn’t expected to survive. Instead of getting an unpaid leave, I got fired.  THREE of my clients — tech moguls who couldn’t really be called friends — wrote me checks.  Two signed, blank checks, and a third one for half a year’s pay. All three came with notes that said, “Call if you need more, and your family is in our prayers.”  Four other people said, “When you’re ready to go back to work, call me — in the meantime, you’re in our prayers.”
  • About the same time, a worker at the local blood bank commented that we must have the most amazing family in the world, because of all the people who showed up to make “directed donations” for my granddaughter.  We have a rare blood type, and a newborn with a bad heart requires blood from donors who’ve never even had a cold sore.  Among the donors who showed up were:  a Navy admiral I’d never met (the brother of a former boss); a VFW lodge (courtesy of a client who was a retired Marine); an entire order of nuns (alerted by a priest who was the cousin of a friend); congregations from the Unitarian, Quaker, Methodist, Mormon, Baptist, Assembly of God, and Catholic churches where friends went; the knights from Medieval Times, three rock bands, and a soccer team (friends of my son); two rabbis and a cantor (the husband of a woman I worked with and his brothers); and my needle phobic best friend.  We got so much blood “banked” before her second surgery that it carried her though all 14 of the procedures she needed.  It saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars — and we were able to donate blood to other families who needed it, too.
  • My husband has an elderly relative who lives in the upscale Preston Hollow neighborhood near President George W. Bush.  She has rheumatoid arthritis, and is in her 90’s — so when she fell in her front yard, landing in a fire ant bed, it could have been hours before anyone happened by on her tree-lined, quiet street.  Luckily, it was “bulk trash” day, and she was quickly spotted by a Hispanic man driving by in a battered pick-up truck in search of treasures put on the curb.  He picked her up gently, carried her to his truck, and drove her to a hospital, making sure she was safe before he vanished. 
  • Great Aunt Velma (a spry woman who admits to 95 but may be older) lives on a county road far out of town.  She was working in her garden when a pit bull that had escaped from a “neighbor” a few miles down the road killed her elderly dog before attacking Aunt Velma.  Two oil-field workers, driving by on the way to lunch, saw the attack, rescued Aunt Velma, and drove her into town to the hospital, and then contacted the Sheriff to tell him where to find the dog and its owners (who were probably using their large group of badly treated animals as fighting dogs).

I could go on.  There’s the entrepreneur who made a hand-shake deal with me for equity, and sent me a check some time later when I was sure he’d have forgotten. A contractor who showed up months after he’d finished work on my house to check to be sure he hadn’t used some bad Chinese-made materials (he hadn’t).

And I’ll always be grateful to the famous writer who paid bills for me back when I was a young, single parent, asking that I “pass the help along” someday to another writer when I could. Happily, I was able to do that earlier this year when a writer whose work I enjoy wound up in financial trouble. The writer I was able to help put up quite a battle to accepting help — although she’d have been first in line to help someone else.  The only reason she accept my help was my assurance that she was simply helping me out by allowing me to pay off my own “debt of honor”. 

The real point of this story is that most people are good.  They want to help. They may not know how.  But if you give them the chance, you may be pleasantly surprised.   A lot of us are reluctant to ask for help, even when we need it.  Not me — not any longer. 

I blithely ask strangers in New York City for directions, government workers in Wellington for advice, and waitresses in far away cities where I don’t speak the language for help with my food allergies (using helpful cards I asked friends to help me make).  So far, very few of them have let me down. “Please” and “thank you” are still the magic words that Captain Kangaroo told us that they were.

Sure, there are jerks in the world.  But as long as you can look in the mirror and know that you aren’t one of them, you can be pretty sure that there are more people like you than there are of the bad kind.

Photo credit:  I took this photo of the famous “streetcar named Desire” in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1999. Copyright Deb McAlister-Holland, 1999.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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