I had an unusual experience last Saturday morning, When I went for a walk.
Just as I entered the park, I saw a woman, probably in her late 50’s, walking a little, white dog. I casually commented that her dog was cute, when – much to my surprise – the woman began to tear up. Apologizing, she explained that tomorrow would be 8 weeks since her husband had died of cancer.
I really felt badly for her. I lost an aunt to cancer a year and a half ago, so I have some understanding of just how hard the whole experience can be. I gave her a hug, and we started to stroll together. Wound up doing a lap of the whole park. Mostly, I just listened.
When our walk was done, I felt good that I was able to lend a friendly ear to someone who needed it. It got me thinking about how acts of kindness really do make both the receiver and the giver feel better. Actually, this unexpected walk with a stranger also got me thinking about a remarkble experience that happened to my family, years ago.
I used to live in the city of Edmonton, Alberta. One evening, my mom, grandma, brother, and cousin were on their way home after a day-trip to Drayton Valley, when they were rear-ended by a distracted driver on the highway. My mom’s car was a total write-off. The policemen said how incredible it was that no one had been injured.
The accident occurred in front of a campground about 200 km from Edmonton, so my mom called my oldest brother to ask if he could come and give them a ride back home. He immediately went to pick them up.
He was a student at the time, driving an older vehicle and – shortly after picking everyone up – his car broke down. What an evening, right?
Now, it was past 11:00 p.m. This was the age before cell phones, so my family stood stranded by the side of the road, assessing the unfortunate circumstance in which they found themselves.
That’s when a young farmer stopped to help. He drove my family back to the city, more than an hour and a half in one direction (never mind that he still had to drive all the way back to his farm). When my mother offered to pay him for his troubles, or at least for the gas, he refused to accept. No, he said. Pay it forward. Help someone who needs your help in the future.
That is not the end of the story.
When the accident occurred, my mom’s car got towed away. In the stress of the moment, my mom wound up abandoning a bunch of the stuff that was in her car. Some of these items were kind of valuable, like tools.
The following week, my mom and her best friend returned to the site of the accident, in the hopes of recovering some of the items. My mom entered the campground, and asked around a bit, just in case. Turns out there were a number of seasonal workers who were living in the campground while they worked in Drayton Valley for the summer. Everyone was so nice. They had collected all of her belongings and, expecting that she might come back, had stored everything neatly under a tarp.
And there’s yet another twist. On this trip, my mom had been driving a rental car provided by the insurance company. Believe it or not, it also broke down while they were out there! Seriously! It had to be towed, but, fortunately, the rental agency had an outlet in Drayton Valley, and my mom and her friend were able to get a replacement vehicle right away.
What a strange experience, don’t you think? Such a bitter-sweet combination. They had a terrible accident, but, miraculously, no one was hurt. Every car that went out there had to be towed away! Yet, the kindness of strangers transformed the memories of this negative experience into ones that are warm, and rather positive.
There is something very touching, even powerful, about an act of kindness from a stranger – extended without the hope of any retribution.
Sometimes, it can even be simple gestures that make a difference: being patient and present for others, or smiling at someone whom you sense might be feeling alone.
Kindness has a way of coming back to you in mysterious and beautiful ways, and studies show that helping others increases our own happiness. It has a way of restoring hope, not only in the receiver, but also in the giver.
I am not sure why, but when I was done this walk, I knew it was time to start blogging again. I am excited to be here, and I look forward to sharing the simple, everyday adventures that challenge, comfort, and enrich.
By the way, after I said goodbye to the woman last Saturday, I decided to do another lap of the park. This time, for me. I’d had a stressful week, and needed to process it so that I would have more energy to give to my family and my work. Even though I had not planned on it, during that second lap of the park, I took a few snapshots with my cell phone. Those are the pictures in today’s post, in case you wanted to see what one of Winnipeg’s city parks looks like.
Oh, just thought of one more thing! While we are speaking of the kindness of strangers, have you heard this story of a life-changing phone call? Not exactly light-hearted, but it gave me goose-bumps.
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