Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger

my wife and i have returned from our travels to washington and new york with many fond memories, lots of laundry, and tons of pictures to be sorted through.  as we inevitably do when we travel, we found kind strangers who helped us along the way.    i'll write about three of them in today's post.

the first was a young man we sat with on the subway as we returned to our apartment late at night from the opera.  since my wife and i are obviously senior citizens, two old folks out at that hour piqued his curiosity, so he asked where we had been so late at night.  learning that we had been to see madam butterfly, he told us how much he enjoyed opera, though he wasn't able to go on a regular basis.  as we talked, we learned that his parents were in spain, that in a few minutes when midnight struck he would turn twenty-five, that he was a dominican-american, and that his grandfather had been the dominican ambassador to the united states.  he was on his way uptown to the stop before ours to join some friends to celebrate his birthday.  we had a wonderful conversation with him, and he was happy to have found an older couple to wish him a "happy birthday" since his parents were not there to do so in person.  as he left us to go to his birthday party, we were amazed at how this stranger had taken us into his life and had been genuinely interested in ours.

later in our trip, my wife sat next to man in the subway who struck up a conversation with her.  we were obviously tourists with our camera bags, and he asked where we were from.  upon learning that we came from arkansas and texas, he began asking us about what we had seen and planned to see while we were in new york.  after my wife shared our trip experiences and plans with him, he began to list other new york attractions that might interest us.  as he talked about the wonders of new york, my wife questioned him for more details about his suggestions.  before we realized it, we were at the stop where he and we left the subway for our apartments.  as he walked away in the opposite direction, he wished us well and encouraged us to come back to new york because there was no way we could see everything he and my wife had discussed in one trip.

after going out to eat in mid-town, we got on the subway, and i wound up standing next to a lady holding a small suitcase in front of her.  i spoke to her and asked her how she was.  she was amazed that this stranger had greeted her and asked, "what did you say?"  i repeated myself, and she responded.  she turned to my wife, who was seated on the other side of her, and said, "what a nice husband you have."  they began to talk, and from my vantage point, i could hear little of what they said.  as soon as a seat was available, i sat across from them and watched their conversation, still unable to hear them.  they talked animatedly until she left the train one stop before us.  when we got back to our apartment, i asked my wife about their conversation.  she said that they had talked like old friends about the presidential campaign, the folk-dancing class the lady was on her way to, our trip, and their daily lives.  we both remarked that it only took a simple greeting for this lovely lady to open up and share a bit of her life with a stranger on the subway.

one often hears about the rudeness or, at best, the indifference of new yorkers, but that has never been our experience.  there were many others who showed us kindness--the young woman who, in the process of giving us directions on the subway platform, dropped her phone down beside the track; the man who saw her plight and jumped off the platform to recover her phone for her; the waitress who treated us with kindness that went far beyond the requirements of her job, the kind private bus driver who gave us a lift to the entrance to The Cloisters when we asked him for directions, just to mention a few.  wherever we go, we find that most people want to help and to make human contact with others, even perfect strangers.  we humans are alike once you get past the superficial differences that we allow to separate us, and we find that kindness is far more prevalent that indifference or cruelty.

may we remember that there are no real strangers, that every person is our father, our mother, our sister, our brother, our child.  may we know that when we treat another with kindness, we are expressing that-of-god within us.  shalom.

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