The Kindness of Strangers
In folk lore and fairy tales little children are always told not to talk to strangers. Strangers denote danger, some form of awakening from the slumber of innocence. They can be angels in the guise of ugly old crones. They can be wolves in sheep’s clothing.
So often, these serendipitous encounters with perfect strangers can open our hearts to the generosity of soul-directed experiences that defy logic. Says Clarisssa Pinkola Estes, “In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms.”
If we trust our intuition, our wise animal-instinctual skills for survival, we will sniff out the predators, and open ourselves to encounters with strangers who midwife us through time of painful and lonely transitions, soothing with a smile or a single act of generosity. We will recognise those strangers who can awaken us to a new life direction. Those who bring a sense of texture and the comforting sense of continuity in our daily lives. Many people say that real friendships are not easy to forge in termite mound apartment blocks, lego land housing estates. We may ask, are these my friends or merely acquaintances? Does it really matter?
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” drawls Blanche du Bois in Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar named Desire. The Latin word for Kindness is Humanitas. Stranger is Hospes, also meaning, guest or host. How deeply significant are these more authentic meanings if we savour them and allow the essence of the words to infuse our psyche. So often it is a stranger who performs heroic acts of love and daring – answering a telephone call that saves a life, swimming out to sea to save a drowning child.
Ian offers his time in the service of the dying, sitting at their bedsides to write down the stories of their lives. Jessie visits Alzheimer’s patients who sit and stare. She gently holds their hands, combs their hair, and sings the old songs they may or may not recall through the gossamer veils and whispers of their memory.
We use the word “friend” loosely these days. We are “friends” with strangers we connect with on face book, those we meet at the yoga studio, or at a weekend workshop. A neighbour becomes a friend. There is a soulful kinship with the elderly lady wearing the red scarf, who walks in the park with her rotund dachshund. We smile and exchange pleasantries with the man in the video store. For me, these low intensity friends are like luminous pearls in the necklace of my life. Like angels, they enfold me in their wings in times of joy and times of sorrow. They bestow nods of encouragement when I feel the bruise of living. They reach out with silent “likes” and comments of acknowledgement on Facebook. In this circle of kinsmen and women, we all belong to an interconnected universe.
These are the friends that offer us the out breath in the sturm und drang of living with lovers, the soap operas in our families. These are the friends who dapple the shadows of our lives with small acts of kindness, honest caring, and gentle humour. It is the kindness of these strangers who offer us sanctuary amidst the tumultuous storms, the dry deserts, of our lives. So, each day, let us be in gratitude for the kindness of strangers who encircle us when storms rage through all that is safe and familiar.
“Smile at each other, smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other – it doesn’t matter who it is – and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.” Mother Teresa