Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

           I recently read a book by Timothy Brook, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World.  I was immediately intrigued by his reason for writing this book from the viewpoint he did.  He described when he was twenty years old, cycling across the Low Countries beginning in Amsterdam.  On the second day of this ambitious journey, the evening sky began to darken and rain started to fall heavily making the road quite slick.  As he peddled along the drenched street, a truck got too close to him and he was forced off the road and into the grass.  Although he was not hurt, he was covered in mud and his bike was bent, needing some repair.  Since there were no bridges nearby to hide under, he went to the nearest home to ask if he could simply get a few minutes out of the rain.  The old woman who answered the door had seen his mishap, she hesitated for a moment then opened the door and invited Brook into her home. He recalled, “All I wanted was to stand for a few minutes out of the rain and pull myself together, but she wouldn’t hear of it.  She poured me a hot bath, cooked me dinner, gave me a bed to sleep in and pressed on me several of her dead husband’s things, including a waterproof coat” (Brook, 1).  The next morning she fed him the “best breakfast [he had] ever eaten” and gave him some postcards of local sites, urging him to stop in town and look around before biking to his next scheduled location.  Brook followed her advice to take the scenic route into the Dutch town of Delft; this detour ended up being the main “jumping-off-point” of his entire book.  Because of the kindness of this one woman, Brook was introduced to a world he did not know existed; that one simple act of kindness made all the difference for him.
            Just as Brook experienced unexpected kindness, recently I was the happy recipient of the kindness of a stranger.  My oldest son is across the country right now serving the people of Minnesota and it was his birthday last week.  Of course there was no way I would be able to cook him his favorite food on that day as I had all the years he was growing up.  However, near his birthday, I received a call from an area code I did not recognize and soon found it was a stranger offering her kindness to my son.  She discovered it was his birthday and wanted to cook him a birthday meal of his favorite food to show her appreciation for all of the help he had given her and her husband during the past few months.  I was touched by her desired to do something so kind for my son and in a roundabout way, for me.
            Although these seeming simply experiences are not earth shattering or influential to thousands of people, they become part of our own personal histories and are the stories that are told again and again to those closest to us.
Brook, Timothy. Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World.