The Kindnesses of Strangers

June 12, 2010

What this world needs is a new kind of army – the army of the kind.• Cleveland Amory

I long for home. I do not like to travel as much as I like being surrounded by the comfortable familiars of The House of Stuff. Unfamiliar sights and sounds are fascinating, but my brain is easily capable of overstimulating itself. All alone in a room, I have more than enough to think about. In a city, I am sometimes overwhelmed by cacophonous input.

I’ll soon be boarding the train for Oregon. The thing that’s struck me most about this visit to Washington, D.C., besides the wonder of seeing George Washington’s uniform, Julia Child’s kitchen, and Dorothy’s ruby slippers, is how kind and helpful everyone has been. This has filled the days with grace as my questions about where to catch this bus or that Metro train have been cheerfully answered by strangers.

It’s easy to be too busy to help someone, even if you’re being paid to do so. It’s easy to ignore those who need a moment of your time. It’s easy to be uncivil, and yet even brief civility lingers long after the encounter, adding a pleasurable glow to the day. I have always known that this matters, but this trip cross-country reminds me how important small kindnesses can be.

I’ve mentioned the kindness challenge before, but it’s worth revisiting: Today and tomorrow and the rest of the week ahead, be kind to those you encounter whenever possible.

I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within. • Lillian Smith


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