Skip to content

The Kindness of Strangers

I just returned from a quick visit to Boston and New York City–not a vacation or a whirlwind shopping trip, but an effort to keep my daughter company as she underwent fairly serious surgery. I rarely travel on my own. When I do, my calm exterior masks an inner certainty that something terrible is going to happen. I’m going to lose my wallet, or my contact lenses are going to disappear down the hotel sink. I will head the wrong direction on a bus or subway and never be seen again, or the plane will crash, or my phone will be stolen. At the very least, people are going to be yelling at me. Add to these concerns the various misfortunes that could befall my daughter in the hospital. Instead of suffering any catastrophe, my daughter is doing well, and I’m safely back at home contemplating how kind people can be.

From the clerks at Coffee Central in Massachusetts General Hospital, to the uniformly caring nurses, to my daughter’s avuncular surgeon, to the various nice people in the elevators, to the numerous volunteers who guided us here and there–all, without exception, kind. No one yelled. No one even grimaced or spoke a sarcastic word.

I wasn’t surprised at my Boston friends’ kindness–Sarah and Sidney and Joel and Margaret–who gave me dinner and lunch, as well as good conversation. I was touched, of course, but not surprised. Nor was I surprised by the good humor of the daughter’s boyfriend, whom I just met but got to know pretty well. Not surprised, but gratified and impressed.

Returning to New York, where my daughter lives, I was comforted by the friendliness of my cab drivers, the patience of overworked pharmacists, the thoughtfulness of the roommate who drove me to the airport, and the advice and support of ordinary folks standing in line or sitting on the plane. How nice it was to be rereading one of my favorite recent books, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, on my return flight to Cleveland. I was immersed in the powerful ending of this warm, goodhearted novel, when the solicitous flight attendant, another kind stranger, interrupted to ask if I wanted a beverage. As it happened, I was dying for a cranberry juice.

Back in Cleveland, some elderly volunteers helped me navigate the buses and trains, whose lines are largely under construction this weekend. My neighbor went to some trouble to pick me up at a train stop. Since last Wednesday, I have been a kindness beneficiary.