The Kindness of Strangers
(in Three Parts)
You never know how a kindness speck grows in the heart of another. The beauty of the simplest loving hello and the softness in the simplest of human connections often astounds me in how it can open the heart to a higher bandwidth within. When presence is beribboned into any signature of giving love it fascinates the senses to a higher core. And when it is that kind with a lasting footprint radiating into the heartbeat of the soul I am simply done in by how great and small and interconnected everything is each time.
I am as often in earnest to learn about how people survive a brokenness of the spirit, however tragic, however small, and what meets them along their journey to better get through it. As a teen, I would often steal away to the bedroom to read aloud plays by Tennessee Williams for that very reason and one of the character truths that chimed out for me was that of Blanche Dubois telling her audience more than anyone: “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
There is value in our heart print. In our mad rush immediate world that despises all mediocrity, we can often forget that the wonder of the Moon is lit by the Sun and helped by it as much as we are by the truth that heaven and earth reside interdependently within the hearts of our own humanity. Our purpose can be simple. And at the same time, kindness can be so great. Compassion to the stranger outside of you and to the stranger within you is so simple an affect as to be greater than any purpose you will ever have here on earth. I can say this because I have seen for myself how it can build and heal new worlds.
The Rainbow Man
Once upon a life juncture, something in me breaking wanted to give up on a lot of things; I just didn’t even know how to begin to self-adjust. I asked for a sign though the sky expanse by now had washed of me. I truly felt I had nothing left of worthiness to give, and about then I was pretty much decided on my next intention. Just then, I heard a clarion note shock the grey: “Hello, Love!” The openness in the call pierced my sixteen-year-old soul to a full stop.
I looked up to see a homeless person with so much less than I ever had on the outside smiling brightly at me. His smile shattered my drizzly shivering cold. I didn’t feel quite deserving to make any eye contact and so I looked around and back. “Yes, you Love. Don’t you know it? And your being here right now makes my day.” The call of the rainbow man carried beyond my own syncopated silence speaking to the raindrops. Its wash and sound overtook the numbing, the uncertainty, the dark. I hadn’t any words to say in that moment but I felt his offering shift and lighten something in my perceptual direction. I got to learn a lot from him.
That raw empty goodbye morning something in my heart took an invisible seat next to him on his welcome mat in a dry spot with the rain coming down around us. The next morning, I would look for him. He didn’t know whether to choose the cup of coffee or the Coffee Crisp bar. I told him he could have both. I laughed when he insisted we share a bagel, too, and I never forgot that message from his heart to mine or that it was a homeless person who helped me believe I had exactly what it takes to find home.
“Thanks for being here when I needed you,” I said. “And well, I was going to say the very same thing to you, Love,” said he. “Now isn’t the world a special place when you can feel someone’s heart smile. “And isn’t it funny how a thoughtful thank you can shine as bright as the sun.”
A light needing to find a home with a complete stranger refracted for me soon again. At the age of twenty-six. I was rather struck by the beautifulness in the eyes of a dignified round-bodied sweet-faced man with shiny brown skin that glistened in the autumn sunshine like morsels of the sweetest chocolate chips and who, I noticed, began to overnight but ever so elegantly in space on a park bench across my graduate apartment. Mornings in the Commonwealth island, he would gently stand up and greet me and “my lucky pup” with a Good Morning smile like Maya Angelou would want it properly done. Purple stars danced around him sometimes. Late afternoons before my evening class, he would be there sitting on the park bench closest to my front door and claiming the tree shade in his September. His kindness no matter his situation captivated me.
His homeless way filled the unspoken in my own homesick and unsettled student soul with so much purity and a sheltering love. The fragility in his Being as much communicated that whoever we are we have a roof over our head no matter what because we are. His own humanness brought down the stars. Still I worried for him. And, I would begin to look for him my every morning, as I would an angel nourishing my thankful soul.
One late October night, as the air chilled, I brought a warm meal to his bench spot as he lay sleeping. The next morning perhaps I could behold him. I did, except today he was curiously in a stance of personal and prayerful allegiance to me by the park bench right across from my door. The white bag I had brought him ruffled gently on his opened palm. Did he really wait all this time just for me?
He stood proud, Maya Angelou proud, while a few big tears began to river-roll down his cheek in slow time with so much heart power that I felt his giving pooling in a beautifully deep and unknown core in my heart. I am also more than positive in that moment that I felt a healing more than he.
“Thank you”. It wasn’t audible and yet his visible huge note of mouthed pantomime somehow travelled like a clear beautiful pin drop of liquid grace across the street to my throughway. He made sure I was there. I saw how he wanted to gift me witness to his first appreciative bite of food. He gently beat his heart and moved his lips again to shape the two most humbling words that man has in his possession in the Universe. This time I heard it brush wind. My dog even cried. How that beautiful homeless man chose to go about things taught me things that day so deep and rich on the human discourse of love and kindness that I never knew existed. It quite honestly was one of the more powerful life moments in a shared kindness dignity I have known.
Come May, I would see him again, at the bench, waiting for me. He tipped his head as if his mane of hair were a hat. This time I waved and we shook hands and he bent to pat Cashew. “Thank you,” he said. “I came to say thank you because what you did for me helped me figure out how to find my courage to get on my feet and get back home.”
We exchanged names. We shared some life story. Then, Charles held my hand and hugged it with his two. The stars between them let me know that if I was ever in need one day, I could do it, too, and resolve that same homelessness within. His message has never been lost on me. I have referred to him when I have questioned my own resilience. In quiet and beautiful appreciation to the great friendliness that surrounded us both, Charles saluted me and my dog and my day in a happy forward and he has communed but in my heart since.
Photography by Marina Mashaal