What Would You Do? The Kindness of Strangers…

I like to think that I am a kind and sensitive soul. I like to think that I feel empathy and am approachable. Especially after my last post.

But today, I feel like a terrible person.

An old man approached me and asked to use my phone as I sat and worked on my computer in a library. This man did not look threatening. This man had clear eyes and combed hair. His pants were sagging and kind of dirty. He was old. He didn’t seem weird, or strange but he was old in the way that he seemed confused about the boundaries of social etiquette. Or maybe it’s me that is confused. Not sure how to process his request, I said I wasn’t comfortable with him making a call on my phone. He pursued and asked why I wasn’t comfortable? I asked him who he was calling, and was it local. He stated that he had to call a Dr.’s office, and he pointed with his long, shaky fingernail, to the piece of paper he was holding with the number. It was labeled “internal medicine.” Still feeling uncomfortable, I asked if the library had a phone he could use. He said that he had already asked and they just sort of walked away from him. I told him that I was working on my phone as he began to sit down at my table. Not knowing what to do as he continued to innocently pressure his request, I kept asking questions. “Do you need to make an appointment?” figuring that was something I could do for him, but he answered that he just had to call and ask them a few questions. I was frozen…what do I do? Why am I feeling so awkward? A kindhearted patron finally rescued me from making any decision and offered the man his phone and took him outside.

When I looked at him my eyes began to well – I told him he was kind, that he was a good person. I was filled with sadness for the old man, and selfishly and strangely for myself. As they walked out, another man who had been watching the exchange, looked at me sympathetically and said, “Don’t get old.” I said, “I know, but I feel terrible.” He reassured me that it was ok, the man was offered help, and all was well. I think he knew I needed some kind of validation for my actions.

I was in the middle of writing a totally different post as this situation presented itself.

Abandoning that train of thought, this one has got me thinking. These kinds of scenarios feel like such tests. They seem to offer a glimpse of truth, and I didn’t like mine. I am that person who will talk to you while waiting in line at the store. I am that girl who is always looking on the bright side. I get annoyed at the cynicism that people carry with them and how they allow it to affect their world view, but today I feel like my first reaction was one of doubt.

I can’t pinpoint my discomfort, and I still don’t know what I would have done had the stranger not come along. I don’t want to be the girl that is too afraid to help another person. I know in my heart that I have a soft spot for children, animals and the elderly. What made me afraid to act for this man? This was someone’s dad, someone’s grandfather. I would surely want a generous stranger to help my loved one in a moment if need.

I feel like as a society we are so bombarded with images and stories of the bad. I am so aware of what is on the television when it’s not blaring cartoons so that I can make sure to protect Red and Roo from the heinous pictures and words that will attack their innocent minds. I don’t ever want them to know of such things, but obviously that will become unrealistic and unavoidable as they grow. We have talked about “stranger danger,” and how it is not ok to speak with someone we don’t know unless Mommy or Daddy are there. Sad as it is to admit, I think that’s how I felt. Was I skeptical of this man? Was I suspicious? Was his call going to take a long time?

Whatever it was that paralyzed me, I think I got the message.

And now I am off and determined to pay something forward before the end of the day…



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