The kindness of strangers

“Let me take care of this for you,” says the saleswoman. Then, mercifully, she walks away to a counter at the far end of the shoe department. I search my coat pocket for tissues.

It’s the post-holiday rush in department stores all over the United States. But here in Chicago, at the end of 2010, it’s particularly busy. I have my 10- and six-year-old sons at Von Maur, shopping for suits. The older couple walking by us smile as my boys paw at each other rambunctiously. They assume we are shopping for holiday finery. But we’re not. We’re shopping for funeral suits.

My mother has declared she is done with surgeries and interventions. We know she will pass away within the next couple of months. And it could be as soon as the next couple of days. Thus, here we are, shopping for funeral attire so when the call comes, we can head to the town that still feels like home to me—the one in which I grew up.

We’ve ended up in the ladies’ shoes department and I’ve held it together up to this point. I’ve let the boys ride the Santa train in the middle of the mall and waved, smiling, as they chug by me. My eldest has outgrown this train but he rides for his little brother. I bought them the obligatory chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate that are our tradition after riding the train. And now I’m just trying to take care of the final bit—shoes that will match my clothes for my mother’s wake and funeral.

In Von Maur’s enormous shoe department, I can find just one pair that will both match and allow me to stand for the hours it will take to properly memorialize my mother. She was well known in her work circles and there will be many mourners who will pay their respects. So, comfort is key. But I’m enough of my mother’s daughter to balk at shoes that look comfortable without style. I’ve found the one pair that meets my needs. Yet, when the saleswoman comes out of the back room, she tells me they don’t have a size six.

I don’t cry in public. At least I try not to. That, too, is an inheritance from my stoic Germanic mother. The older I get, the more I channel my sentimental dad but I am sometimes horrified when the tears roll down my cheeks. Not because he wasn’t a decent man. I just don’t like to bleed vulnerability in public.

My eyes well up as she says matter-of-factly, “No can do. We’re out of that size.” I explain why I need them and she softens. “Let me take care of this for you.”

She comes back after I’ve wiped my tears and kept the boys from knocking over the nearest shoe display with their antics. “You’ll have them in a day or two. They’ll be coming from Kansas,” she says. “And—I’m sorry.”

Her kindness—walking away to let me compose myself, making the extra calls to find what I needed—I will never forget. I am not sure I wouldn’t have just blubbered right there in Ladies’ Shoes had she not been so human. I was at the end of a very long, taut metaphorical rope. But my fellow human came through for me.

It’s 2002, maybe 2003. I am groggy, soon to succumb to an anesthesia-induced sleep so a surgeon can biopsy my liver. I am on a gurney in a hallway and the tears roll down my cheeks. The nurse leans down and says, “What is the matter?” I swallow hard and say, “My son. He’s so little. What if . . .” She stops me. “You’re going to be fine,” she says. “I just know it. And at this hospital, we pray. I’ve said a prayer for you. Believe, honey. Believe it is all going to work out.”

It seems only seconds later, I am waking up in that hallway. As I try to open my eyes, they flutter weakly instead. “Hey, you. Hi. You’re back,” my husband says in his gentlest voice. “We missed you. It’s all over.” I open my eyes to his concerned face flooding with relief. And he takes my hand as they wheel me down the hall. I don’t ever see the same nurse again. But I remember her well, even to this day. Not her face, but her voice. Sweet comfort.

2011. I’m in an ambulance on my way to the hospital. The paramedic is telling me about how he is going to propose to his girlfriend that week. “Details,” I squeak out between gasps. He tells me of how her family is in on the surprise. And by the end of his tale, the Toradol has taken effect and I can speak in full sentences again. “Oh, I love it,” I say. “The perfect way to make her feel special.” He smiles as he wheels me into the emergency room and waves on his way out.

The bossy middle-aged nurse barks questions at me but every time I try to answer, she talks to the other people in the room. I finally snap, “Are these rhetorical questions? Or do they actually require answers?”

The male nurse in the room, Nic, tells her he will handle it from there. As she huffs her way out the door, he turns to me and smiles conspiratorially. “Enough to make a tough day worse, eh?”

The ER doctor bounces into the room—a real-life Tigger, and a gorgeous one at that—and laughs at what Nic has just said. “We’ve got you, Kristine. You have the A-team right here.”

Three hours later, I’m ready to go home. This dynamic duo took me from scary scenario to giggling at their antics. As I walk into the restroom, I let out a little scream. They chuckle. “Yeah, we were waiting for that,” Nic admits. My hair is sticking straight up, the victim of my flailing from the pain.

As I wait for my paperwork, the doctor tells me to remember that my body is “effing amazing. Your kidney stone traveled in 90 minutes what takes some a week to travel. Isn’t that phenomenal?” He is truly excited. I guess he can be, but I have just been through the equivalent of having a third child without the benefit of any drugs. I glare at him for a moment and then burst out laughing. “Effing amazing” is right.

Sometimes it’s a phone call, sometimes a prayer, sometimes it’s comedic relief. Kindness takes so many forms. Sometimes it doesn’t speak, but just quietly pays the shortage in what is owed for groceries for the person at the head of the checkout line.

This last example is top of mind for me, particularly because my son is working retail for the holiday season. He was cashiering a couple of weeks ago, checking out a woman who was paying with money from an envelope. As he totaled her items, she realized she had to return some. “Mom, it was basics,” he said. “Underwear, pajamas–stuff like that.” He said how hard it was to watch her have to do this, especially in front of her fellow customers who were waiting in line. “I tried to be super nice, super chill,” he said. “To make it no big deal.” In his own small way, a kindness was shown. I hope it made it easier for her.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in my country this week, in the middle of a pandemic that rages on here, the kindness of strangers matters all the more. Wishing you the right phone call, prayer, laugh, or helping hand. Or, here’s hoping that you are able to provide it, if your own tanks are full.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

65 Comments Add yours

  1. I have experienced a nurse like that too, someone who just knows that you are scared and assures you that she will take care of you. Only to never see her again after the surgery

    1. candidkay says:

      I think nursing, like teaching, is a calling. So glad you had someone who cared! The alternative isn’t pleasant.

  2. Laurie Stone says:

    Got a little misty-eyed over this one. There are so many “angels” out there and it’s so rewarding to be an angel for someone else. Lovely post. Happy Holidays!

    1. candidkay says:

      While I never like to make people cry, I think one of the kindest things you can say to a writer is that she made you laugh or cry:). Thanks, Laurie. Wishing you and your family many small kindnesses this holiday season!

  3. Beautiful. Sometimes the strangers come to our help just when we need it,. And sometimes, we are those kinds strangers.

    1. candidkay says:

      And therein lies the beautiful, magical kismet. Happy Holidays, Cynthia! Wishing you and yours a blessed season.

  4. Jane Lurie says:

    A moving and enjoyable read, Kristine. If only everyone focused on being kind. Thank you.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks for the virtual visit, Jane! Glad to have you here. And thank you for the kind words. They fit right in.

  5. modestly says:

    Virtual hugs from here in the UK – can’t we be good to one another sometimes! I loved reading your examples of human kindness – thank you for letting us in!

    1. candidkay says:

      I’ll take the hugs! And right back ‘atcha:). Thanks for the virtual visit . . .

  6. mydangblog says:

    As always, a beautiful post reminding us of the importance of being kind to each other. I really needed that today.

    1. candidkay says:

      So glad it hit at the right time! 🙏🏻😀

  7. Happy Thanksgiving to you and thank you for this very moving post Kristine.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Andrea! I’m glad it moved you and happy to see your smiling face here 😀.

  8. Robin says:

    This post touched me deeply. Thank you. ❤

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you for reading and letting me know, Robin! Good to have you here.

  9. David says:

    In the dark months the world has endured of late it is good to remember the best of humanity that has happened in your line of sight or to you.
    Thank you for being one of mine good times.

    1. candidkay says:

      If this post helped your dark time today, I’m honored. So much good still out there.

  10. Amy says:

    This post touches my heart in the profoundest of ways… Thank you for highlighting the everyday angels who seem to appear just when they are needed the most… Sending love to you, my brave and deeply kind, caring friend. I am grateful for you. xxx

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m grateful for you, also! And the creativity and beauty you bring to the world. Glad this one touched you❤️.

  11. This is beautiful, Kristine. Gratitude for acts of kindness is a huge part of our humanity. xo

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you😊. Humanity at its best.

  12. Eli Pacheco says:

    I love this in big ways … especially how, when we live a life, we pile up stories. Not always bad ones. Sometimes, often, they’re of kindness and circumstance and something a stranger says in passing that never leaves us. Do they realize they’re with us forever because of it? Are we part of someone else’s stories because of the kindness we’ve shown? I can only hope.

    I’m thankful for places like your blog for entertainment and inspiration, Kay, and that you’re a visitor to my space, too. Lastly, I love your ending – and am reminded that sometimes, when our own tank feels bone dry, there are often a few drops left to pass along, and in turn, that seems to help refuel us, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. candidkay says:

      What a neat way to think about it, Eli. I hadn’t thought about being part of someone else’s stories because of kindnesses that I’ve shown. That’s awesome. I am so very thankful for your visits here because you always add thoughtful commentary that makes us smile or think. And I’m always happy to visit your space for the thoughts and inspiration that it gives me. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I hope your tanks are filled to the brim! 🍁🍁

  13. And this is what Thanksgiving is all about. Remembering moments of kindness and being thankful. Gratitude. Beautiful post! You brought me right back to moments of intense pain or uncertainty when nurses, aids and doctors really made the difference. Like when my midwife, who I thought was a bit cheesy when I first met her, was absolutely the right one to be with me when my son had to be delivered quite unexpectedly seven weeks early. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

    1. candidkay says:

      Happy Thanksgiving to you also! Especially thankful for healthcare workers who continue to risk their own health to save ours during this pandemic. Wishing you peace and kindness . . .

  14. markbialczak says:

    Oh, what a wonderful wish from your life examples, Kay.
    Yes, those who have it, give it. Those who need it, get it.
    Here’s to a kind Thanksgiving to all.

    1. candidkay says:

      And if we all participated in that equation, how beautiful life could be. Happy Thanksgiving, Mark! 🍁

      1. markbialczak says:

        Happy Thanksgiving to you and the sons, Kay.

  15. Karen Lang says:

    To all the smiles, kind gestures, patience and kind words! We never forget them, and this post reminds us all, it doesn’t take much to change someone’s day or change their direction in life. 👏💕

    1. candidkay says:

      Your blog is a kindness, Karen. Always something to make people think or lift spirits.

      1. Karen Lang says:

        Aww 😍 Thanks Kristine. I’m happy to hear that. 💕

  16. Dale says:

    I have to agree that this is effing amazing because those little (and not so little) gestures make all the difference in how we see the world. Every time a kindness is shared, it gets a little less dark.
    Thanks for sharing these great stories!

    1. candidkay says:

      Aw, shucks. Effing amazing is effing wonderful🙏🏻😊. As are you, sweet Dale.

  17. Jane Fritz says:

    Simply a lovely post, Kristine. Above and beyond lovely, shining with lessons in kindness. ❤️

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Jane! Hope you’re touched by kindness this week. 💕

  18. Kristine, you have me weeping over here! 😩 In the best way, though. What a beautiful post and reminder to be kind to one another. Oh man, I just love this so much and think you are ridiculously amazing! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. I wish only love and happiness for you all. xoxo

    1. candidkay says:

      Happy Thanksgiving! I didn’t mean to make you weep! But hopefully it’s in that therapeutic, happy kind of way. I’ll take “ridiculously amazing” any day of the week! Humbled and happy. 🙏🏻😊 Thank you so much! Xoxo

  19. A very beautiful post Kristine. In those times in our lives it is a lovely thing to be touched, by hand or heart, by those angels that appear. Some from above and others that are within us all ❤️
    And I’m still not thinking about the scream from the ‘hair effect’ in the mirror…honest 😂 🤣

    1. And you have me dumbfounded…I logged out of WordPress and resigned back in…and it worked. It has to be their server logging people off after a predetermined time or after x amount of inaction. Mind you, I don’t think I’ve ever been ‘inactive’ on here, I’m too noisy for that 😂 🤣

      1. candidkay says:

        I’m glad it worked!! It’s not fun to
        Lose those connections.

    2. candidkay says:

      Ha! The scream heard around the world, even in the Land Down Under. I’m sure you heard it, Mark.😉

      1. It is a sound all its own dear lady 😂 🤣

  20. Anne says:

    Beautiful sentiment & so needed

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you:). Hugs to you!

  21. Roy McCarthy says:

    I just finished reading a blog post by a woman who was being a bit slow to vacate the check-out, putting her change in her purse. The woman behind told her to ‘Go to Hell.’ How are some people so unnecessarily bitter when a kind word instead can make someone’s day?

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I hate that, Roy. I wrote a post a few years ago entitled “Beep beep.” It was about almost honking at a slow driver and then realizing he was in his 80s and reminded me of my dad. We can all be rushed and thoughtless sometimes but I don’t understand the story you just shared–who in their right mind tells someone to “Go to Hell” because they’re slow at checkout? So many people on edge . . .

  22. It’s just what we need. A kindness pandemic. Lovely post, Kristine. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family x

    1. candidkay says:

      Amen! Sure beats the other kind of pandemic, Lee. I’ve had it up to HERE with that one. Enjoy your travels in a part of the world that has been wiser about the whole thing!

  23. Kathy says:

    I want to say this post is effing amazing and inspirational, but maybe I shouldn’t? *smile* Loved all the stories and the way the kindness of strangers can really make us grateful. And then perhaps we can remember to pass it along to others. Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. candidkay says:

      Effing amazing is effing appropriate—and clever, Kathy😉😀. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! And thanks for the virtual visit. Happy to have you here.

  24. Super post, Kristine. There have been times in my life where I have received kindness and have given kindness. Like the saying it is more blessed to give than receive. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, John, a saying my mother used often. And giving always gives me such a wonderful feeling . . . even better than receiving.

      1. Unless it is a Bentley Turbo or a million bucks. 😁

  25. bone&silver says:

    That is indeed a lovely post, thank you for sharing your past vulnerabilities so eloquently. May we all choose more kindness, especially to strangers 🙏🏼

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you:). Here’s to kindnesses galore in the near future. I think we could all use it!

  26. nimslake says:

    Hugs. Just because. 🙂🦉

    1. candidkay says:

      Ooh, those are are the very best kind of hugs–the “just because” kind. Thank you!

  27. Jaya says:

    More and more I realise kindness is what makes the world go around. Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. 🌺

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks for reading! It certainly does make the world go ’round:).

    2. Su Leslie says:

      I can only second that. Your words never fail to move me Kris.

      1. candidkay says:

        Thank you! That’s one of the nicest things you can say to writer, right? 🙂 I know it’s not Thanksgiving there but wishing you a week full of kindness.

      2. Su Leslie says:

        Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your whanau.

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