The Literal Kindness of Strangers

Over the Labor Day weekend, I was the recipient of some kindness from strangers. Unlike Blanche duBois, though, I never rely on the kindness of strangers. In fact, I avoid strangers as much as possible. Whether that’s a holdover from growing up in the “stranger danger” era of the 1980s, or due to my general introverted personality, I’m not sure. It’s probably both. Yet this recent experience is challenging me to rethink my relationship with “strangers” and the various ways I tend to interact with those around

My sister came out to visit for the long holiday weekend. She’s an army chaplain, stationed in South Carolina, so I don’t get to see her that often. It’s only about an 8 hour drive between our respective cities, but that requires vacation time to really make a visit count. So it was great that she was able to come out on this Labor Day weekend, and we made the most of it.

On Sunday morning, we took my dog to a local park for some much needed exercise–walking for us, zoomies for Roxy. When we got back to the car, I had to take off Roxy’s leash, put her car harness on, take off my FlipBelt, etc. This is the usual routine I go through to put the dog back in the car after we go for a run or walk, only this time, it wasn’t my car, which proved to be my undoing.

We drive out of the park, up to the intersection of the small park road and the main artery through town. After driving for a few miles, we turn onto my neighborhood road, and my sister says to the rear view mirror, “what’s their problem?” I notice there is a car tailgating us and flashing their lights. I don’t recognize the car at all, and I’m not even sure when they started following us. My instinct is to ignore them, as I intensely dislike conflict or interaction of any kind, but the car is quite persistent, so my sister pulls over, thinking they might just go around. But they pull up beside us and say “something flew off your car bumper and into the road back at X intersection when you turned off the park road. It looked like a cell phone, it was white.”

A quick check of my bag confirmed that I did not have my phone. This older couple, apparently dressed for church, had followed us for at least 3 miles to tell us that my cell phone had fallen off the bumper of my sister’s car, and to indicate the precise spot it had fallen off. Those people were very kind and I wish I could have thanked them more directly. For sure enough, we drive back and found my phone, lying in the middle of the intersection, right where we would have made a sharp left turn out of the park area. Their help made it easy to find.

Fortunately, my phone is fine. I actually have it in a Lifeproof case, mainly to protect it from excessive sweat when I go running, and so the case took all the damage. (It didn’t get run over, surprisingly.) I thus cannot recommend a Lifeproof case highly enough, as it certainly proved its worth.

But this blog post is really about the kindness those strangers showed me, and how I feel after this experience. As I said, I avoid conflict or interactions with others as much as possible. I am introverted, and I am also somewhat private. I tend to apply this attitude to my dealings with strangers out in the world–I extend to them the same kind of “disinterest” I would prefer they show to me. (This means I would likely be a terrible witness should a crime ever occur in my vicinity.)

And so, I cannot say that I would have done the same thing these kind people did. I would definitely not have followed another car, flashing my headlights, to get them to pull over. In fact, I’d be rather afraid of doing that–you never know what the response of the other person might be to your “help.” This makes me feel…not guilty, really, but chastened. As though I know I am in the wrong, and should change my attitude. But can I?

I really don’t know. I do know I should try to make an effort to be a better local citizen, to be more responsible to my neighbors, and to generally be an active part of the community. But old habits and behaviors–especially those which aren’t necessarily negative–die hard.

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