Creative Encouragement: The Kindness of Strangers

23 December, 2011

in Christmas,Creative Encouragement

The Hungarian Christmas tree at Meijer Gardens.

It’s getting really crazy out there, friends. Lots and lots and lots of last minute shoppers.

Gifts, forgotten ingredients for that once-a-year recipe, food for the party, more toilet paper for the bathroom.

Let’s give each other a break and lots of extra kindness and goodwill to all, yes?

Sometimes we begrudge other harried shoppers because we know all the good reasons for our last-minute forays but not theirs.

Or we excuse our procrastination but not theirs.

Maybe they were waiting for the bonus check. Because it’s all they have. Or maybe just the regular check.

Maybe they really do have to work all the time.

Maybe they spend a lot of time taking care of someone. Kids. Their elderly. A sick relative.

Maybe they forgot what they’d already bought in another state.

Maybe someone just got hurt/ill and now it’s their turn to shop and they don’t know what they are doing.

Maybe they are grieving and just couldn’t bring themselves to shop earlier.

Maybe they are a regular person who is always just a little too busy and procrastinates just a little too much.

Does it matter? The kindness of strangers goes a long, long way.

English Christmas Tree at Meijer Gardens

What if they ran out of gas on the highway on the way to the in-laws?

What if they are a woman alone on the interstate and they blow a tire? In the dark? Twenty miles from home? Without a cell phone?

What if they are trying to get to the one post office in the city that’s open until 8pm to mail a Christmas package on time, only to still be filling out that form when the mailman comes by to empty the drop-off box?

What if they are speeding from one in-law to the others to make Christmas dinner on time and get pulled over by a state trooper on Christmas Day itself?

What if their spouse got sick that year and it trashed the finances and they worried about having enough money to get presents for the kids?

What if they can’t stay in that country one day longer and are dying to get home to their family, even though they are sick and really shouldn’t be flying?

Peruvian Christmas Tree

They gave my husband a ride to the nearest gas station and back so he didn’t have to walk in the cold for miles.

He stopped and let me use his phone to call for a ride. It was before everyone had cell phones.  He was a sportscaster on one of the local TV stations, surely more busy that me. And even though I was too nervous to sit in his passenger seat to get warm, he stayed and talked to me through the window about his church and kids until my family came to pick me up.

The mail collector got his packages and left and I looked around for another box in the post office with another collection time sooner than 6pm the next day.  The janitor, who was doing a similar round of the trash cans, saw my wanderings and understood my plight.  He showed me the back door the mail collector had disappeared into, took my package, and snuck it around the corner for me, into the bin.

The cop, now forever known as The Christmas Cop in our family, looked at the three cutely dressed little boys in the backseat, was probably glad I wasn’t a drunk, and took pity on me. We got to Christmas on time, sans an expensive ticket.

We got two different anonymous checks in the mail that year for $100.

I had malaria.  Again.  It was 1999.  After living in Ghana for a year. I was ready to go home and could hardly walk after a 103+ fever for days.

A fellow traveler carried my bags for me in Accra so they would let me through the gate.

In London, after they had to wheel me off the plane in a wheelchair because I was so sick, I started tearing up, afraid I’d miss my flight and have to spend the night in the airport.  Or be made to stay in the airport clinic.  A kind worker set me up in one of those airport golf carts and sped me from one end of the airport to the other. “Chin up, love.” he said.

Another stranger gave me his seat on the train that went from one side of the airport to the other.

Christmas 016

I could not have made that journey without them.

Sometimes you just want to get home.

Those are just a few stories from the last decade or so of my life. I’m sure you have some of your own.

It’s been a very hard year for a lot of people.

It takes time. Time that we’re guarding. Time that we don’t have. Time that we would unexpectedly have to give up.

Maybe even money. That we’re guarding. That we don’t really have. That we would unexpectedly have to give up.

But wouldn’t it take the best sort of creativity?

Wouldn’t it call from us the best sort of scheming and dreaming and planning and use-what-you-have parts of our creative souls?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could leave this year and ring in the new year by being someone else’s story?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

ChantalNo Gravatar

This is nice.

It reminded me of when my husband got his first teaching job – he was getting paid 20k for a one year job at a school that cost over 30k to attend. One of his colleagues put an envelope of money in his campus mailbox. It helped a lot as we were really struggling then, we never found out who it was we had an idea but were never certain.

Also, malaria scares me. A lot.


ElizabethNo Gravatar

Thank you. That story is awesome! And people should treat their employees better- that’s crazy! I had malaria a few times there. Sometimes not a big deal, sometimes yes. Access to modern medicine changes everything.


ElizabethNo Gravatar

Sarah, I’m glad you found me too! :) Come back and tell us how it went!!


JillNo Gravatar

Thanks for this post, Elizabeth. You’ve given me lots to think about. Merry Christmas!


ElizabethNo Gravatar

Jill, you’re welcome! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment during this busy, busy time!! Merry Christmas to you and yours!


Sarah ENo Gravatar

I’m so glad I found your blog!
Creative kindness.
I’m gonna go practice some right now.


pamNo Gravatar

This is one of the most beautiful Christmas posts i have ever seen. I am printing it out and making it a part of my little Christmas book of lovely Christmas Stories and insightful thoughts to be read this time of year. (Although this post we should all read once a week!)

And the photos from the Christmas Trees. You are torturing me over here. I am at once thrilled to see them and know that this kind of magic is still available, and at the same time frustrated that I can not reach out and hold them and perhaps add them to my own tree!

You are indeed a very special woman and we are all very fortunate you have decided to be a part of the family.


ElizabethNo Gravatar

Pam, that is high praise indeed – I am blushing. Thank you so much for your sweet words and encouragement this year!!

And I promise, more tree photos are coming!


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