The Kindness of Strangers

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Sometimes the kindness of strangers is the extra ingredient needed to sway one’s assessment of the day. In the course of a twenty-four hour period, any number of things can transpire that colors one’s perception of life, a community, neighborhood or the people you encounter. Over the course of the past several years, I’ve had frequent occasions to spend time in the Nation’s Capitol. There is something about the architecture of the city, the historical significance it holds, and the landmarks and places of interest in close proximity that vie for a traveler’s attention that make me always open to spending time there.

I had never been to Washington D.C. before our family went for the memorial service for my brother held at Arlington National Cemetery. That was thirty-seven years ago. I remember at the time being mesmerized by the city. While we were in the Washington area, we decided to take advantage of the opportunities to sightsee as well as deal with what seemed at the time an obligatory sad responsibility. Why not do both? I could count on one hand the number of times I’d travelled by airplane before that time. Air-travel seemed expensive back then. Why not get your dollar’s worth and get your bang for the buck?

I’ve been to the Smithsonian and mall area many times since that initial visit, but they all pale in contrast to experiencing them for the first time. Of course, I was thirty-three years old at the time. It was all a new experience for me. The world seemed a lot larger and unexplored back then. Today, air-travel has become a way of life. Back then it was mostly a non-existent opportunity except for the well-to-do. At least that was true for the folks with whom I shared life.

Long story short, I never visit the city without thoughts of my brother. The small white marker in Arlington National Cemetery that bears his name is almost like a magnetic homing device that plays on my heartstrings. I don’t even have to visit and observe the marker first-hand to be aware of it’s presence. It’s weird. It is nothing but a small white marble marker with an inscription engraved with his name and a few other details, but it’s presence gives me a sense of connectivity with the the Nation’s Capitol and with Arlington National Cemetery.

What is even weirder is that I didn’t start out to write any of the aforementioned few paragraphs. I wanted to talk about the kindness of strangers. I say that because I have historically found that people on the streets in Washington are pretty distant and unfriendly.  Some mornings  over the past several years as I’ve walked to the Metro from wherever I was staying, I’ve said, “Good Morning” or “Hello” to everyone I passed on the street. As a rule of thumb, it is infrequent, if ever, that folks verbally respond.  They’d just walk past you without acknowledging your presence.

People were friendlier this trip. Maybe my perception was influenced by the offer of hot chocolate at the hotel where I was staying after I walked five block from the Metro in very cold weather. I’m not totally discounting that, but people really were friendly.   I am wondering if it had a relationship to the extremely cold weather?  When it is bitterly cold outside, do people sense the need to be friendlier, warmer and more hospitable? This trip seemed different from other visits to the Nation’s capitol.  I found myself responding to the “Hellos” or “Good Mornings” of others who spoke to me first. That has never happened before.

On Wednesday afternoon a person on the sidewalk overheard me saying to colleagues, “According to the sign, Union Station is four blocks away”.  I only saw a couple of long blocks before the street ended with a large majestic building at the end. I asked the colleagues walking with me, “Do you think Union Station is on the other side of that building? The stranger on the street answered the question for me. He said, “The building you are looking at is Union Station.” Did I feel stupid?  “Yes, kinda.”  We then engaged in conversation and talked until we’d walked the distance.

Earlier that morning, a lady walking on the Senate side of the Capitol intuitively could tell by looking at my friend Moe and I that we were lost. She asked, “Are you lost?” We told her where we wanted to go and she gave detailed directions to the building we were looking to find. Actually, in Moe’s defense, he knew exactly where we were going. At least the lady was half right. I was lost. I joked to Moe later that I initially thought it was a new approach for “evangelism explosion”. Obviously, “Are you lost” has several connotations.

So my questions are these: “Is there a correlation between people’s behavior and the weather? When the outside temperature is bitterly cold, do strangers you meet on the street intuitively attempt to be friendlier and warmer? I am really curious because of the contrast between what generally has been the norm and my experience this week in that Nation’s Capitol.

Does one good turn deserve another? I actually think so. Since I had been the recipient of the kindness of strangers, I thought it was my turn to be kind.  Before I turned in for the night on Wednesday, I sent an email to the person in charge of the hotel where I was staying:

“It has been my privilege for the past two nights to enjoy the accommodations of The Carlyle Hotel.  Every encounter I’ve had with the staff that work here has been extremely positive.  I don’t know who does your recruitment and selection of employees or your orientation and in-service training, but kudos to what you’re doing.  I am amazed at the friendliness and thoughtfulness of every employee I’ve encountered.  I particularly wanted to share a word of thanks for the thoughtfulness of Orlando Zamora.

When I returned to The Carlyle Hotel after my meetings today, I was ‘worse for wear’.  Earlier in the day, I had fallen face-forward while going down the escalator at Union Station.  I’m not sure how many different steps were a brutal assault to my face, but I looked like I had been in a car accident.

When I came through the doors of The Carlyle, Orlando greeted me and expressed concern. I told him about my fall.   He asked for my room number and at his assistance took my brief case from me and carried it to my room. As he was leaving, he said: “If you need anything, contact me.”

It was a thoughtful gesture.  When I returned to my room after going to dinner with a colleague, I found a handwritten note left for me by Orlando and a bottle of wine.  The note read: “Good Evening Mr. Forrester, Sorry about your fall.  At least you can say you had a great trip!  Feel better soon!  Enjoy the wine, Orlando Zamora”.

I have never stayed in a hotel where I’ve experienced that kind of thoughtfulness and personal attention. I thought it important to let you know”.

So, my new goal going forward in 2016 is to attempt to be the friendly, kind, stranger for others.  I now know first hand the difference it makes in the course of a day.

All My Best!

Don Forrester

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One thought on “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. I am grateful that Orlando was both thoughtful and witty. I hope you are recovering from your unexpected response to gravitational pull. The nurse in me wants to remind you of RICE (rest, ice , compression, elevation). Perhaps in your next blog you will mention if you had to have stitches. Love you. Cora

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