How strangers can teach us to focus on what we do have versus what we don’t have.
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us try and surround ourselves with nice people. Most people want to be treated well, with courtesy and respect. However, there are also individuals that surround themselves with mean-spirited people, or abusive types. They get caught up in a cycle of pain, don’t know any better, are actually mean-spirited themselves, or have issues of self-worth in which they don’t feel they deserve to be treated well. This article is not going to focus on those types (I’ll save that for another time). The focus of this article is on the kind ones… kind-hearted strangers.
Most times when we aren’t feeling well, we may retreat and spend time alone to “veg” out and clear our thoughts. This can take the form of relaxing, listening to music, reading, watching TV, eating, going for a walk, meditating, praying or whatever brings us comfort in our alone time. We also flock to our families, partners, loved ones or to social activities for comfort. Usually our support circle can be there to talk, lend a helping hand, and be a shoulder to cry on. They can listen with an open ear and perhaps give advice out of genuine love and care. But what about those encounters you have with a stranger? I’m not saying you should go to a random stranger and tell them all your problems. Please don’t do that (that would be weird). I’d like to explore those random encounters that has nothing to do with anything, but actually kind of has everything to do with something.
- The store cashier that wishes you a nice day and really means it without sounding like a robot.
- The person in line that lets you go ahead of them because they have a huge cart and you only have two items.
- The driver that waves at you on the road versus honking, yelling and flipping you off (honks should definitely be used in certain roadside scenarios, but flipping off and yelling… not so much).
- The person walking down the street that makes you smile just when you need it or says something randomly out of the blue at just the right time.
Some may say that these things are common courtesies. But I beg to differ. It takes effort to smile, wish someone well and go out of your way for someone else. So many times we often focus so much on ourselves, our inner thoughts, daily agendas and to-do-lists, that it becomes hard to take that extra moment to say or do something nice for someone else.
- The person that runs after you because you dropped your wallet or something important on the floor.
- The person that donates an excessive amount of money to a non-profit organization, but wishes to remain anonymous on the list of donors.
- The non-glorified janitor, garbage collector, social worker, factory worker, and all the invisible behind-the-scenes people working hard for someone or something else at the expense of their own dreams and passions.
- The list goes on.
Not everyone has to try and be like Mother Teresa and save the world. We are human and no matter how hard we try to do good things, we will always fall short. However, it is important to not dismiss those 5-second or 5-minute encounters we sometimes experience from a complete stranger. I recently had two encounters with a stranger that has resonated with me throughout the past few weeks…
Encounter #1: The Concert Angel
A few weeks ago, I found out one of my favorite local bands was playing near my neighborhood, on an evening I happened to have time off of work and my other various activities. I was thrilled! However, to my dismay, the show was sold out. I know this may not sound like a big deal, but for those that know me, music is a huge part of my life. It’s been there for me through my ups and downs and is one of several important things I must surround myself with. Yes, I could have stayed home and listened to music, but sometimes you just have to go to a live event. I was bummed when I realized that the show was sold out, so what did I do? I tried to win tickets.
I’ve always been a sucker for ticket giveaways. As cheesy as it is, I have all my favorite radio stations programmed into my phone, because you never know when that moment arises and you turn on the local radio dial, and there is a ticket giveaway happening for a sweet concert. Yes, I’m the girl pushing re-dial a million times trying to win (no matter how humble or non-competitive one tries to be, you have to admit its always fun to be a winner). I’ve had great luck in the past, so I figured I’d give it a shot this time. What happened? I was the 8th, instead of the 7th caller. So what next? I saw that a record label was giving away a pair of tickets on their social media website. Of course I participated in the online conversation, however, that didn’t work either. I then posted on another social site, as well as on Craig’s List. I didn’t get any bites, therefore figured it wasn’t meant to be, let it go and moved on.
Later that evening, after choir practice at a friend’s house, I realized I was literally a few blocks away from the venue the band was supposed to be playing at. So what did I do? I went there to see if I could scalp a ticket. I’ve never tried scalping before, so figured I might as well try it and see what happens. When I got there, there were 5 other people outside scalping. I was thinking, “ok wow… I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Everyone had their own tactic: one guy was ruthless and aggressive, bugging every person that walked by, these 2 girls stood there trying to look cute, another guy just loitered around not doing anything. I was trying to be selective and kind in my approach, without being annoying. And guess what? A guy said he actually had an extra ticket because his friend’s wife who had the same name as me couldn’t make it. Sweet! Once we got inside, I tried to give him money, but he told me not to worry about it. I insisted. He said, “no, really, I don’t want your money. Save it and give it to the homeless guy up the street.” He then walked away and I never saw him ever again. I couldn’t believe it! Thank you to this kind-hearted stranger wherever you are.
There are a few lessons I learned from this situation.
- Persistence and patience pays off, however, most times things don’t happen unless you’re willing to let them go. I had my mind set on something that I wanted. I tried various avenues to get this thing, and when it didn’t seem like it was going to happen, I didn’t get upset, frustrated or angry. I remained patient, ultimately let go of the idea of having it and moved on. I backed off, forgot about it and focused elsewhere. But then once another opportunity re-appeared again, I knocked back on the door, it opened, and I walked in.
- Be kind and giving to those that have less than you. The guy that gave me the ticket obviously had little attachment to money, otherwise he would have taken mine. And he also didn’t have any other motives, hence why he walked away and basically vanished into thin air. For him, he simply wanted to give something to someone that had less than him and he absolutely wanted nothing in return from it (aside from probably feeling good about himself that he helped me). That guy probably has no idea the impact he had. It was a magical moment and night (the sweet, melodious soundscapes sure helped too).
- What makes you or I different than the homeless man down the street? This is a bold statement. I’m not trying to undermine, undervalue or compare status. I definitely live a life of luxury compared to someone living on the streets, though not so luxurious compared to someone living in the ritziest part of Hollywood (I wouldn’t want that life anyway). The universal commonality is that everyone always wants something that they don’t have. Whether it be a meal, a home, a warm blanket, job, concert ticket, the latest gadget, a healthy family, vacation, car, more of something, less of something, etc. Whatever it is that you want, perhaps the key is being patient and persistence in your efforts, while also at the same time letting go of the idea of even having that thing in the first place.
Encounter #2: Captain Hook & the No-Armed Lady
My second encounter with a kind-hearted stranger is similar to a moment I had in the past. A few years ago, I was at home making food and I started to pit an avocado. I accidentally missed the pit and stabbed myself in the hand. It was a pretty deep cut. I covered it with a towel and tried to find my first aid kit. To no avail, I couldn’t find my kit, and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. I panicked and thus walked myself to the emergency room. At the time, I was living in Ballard (a now trendy, hipster neighborhood of Seattle) one block away from a hospital. The emergency room nurses cleaned, stitched and bandaged me up. The next day, I went to the library to do some work in the computer lab. I was grumpy, sad, and was feeling sorry for myself. I could barely type on the computer because my hand was all bandaged up. I felt stupid for not being more careful in the kitchen, and felt like a gimp because I couldn’t do all the things I was normally used to doing with my hand. Just at this moment, when I was feeling down and out, the guy sitting next to me said, “Hey, it could be worse.” I turned to look over, and saw that this guy had a a hook for an arm! No joke. This guy had NO ARM. Captain Hook from Peter Pan was sitting right next to me. My lesson was learned and at that moment, I instantly appreciated what I had.
A few weeks ago I was working in my restaurant and the same feelings of sadness and despair had permeated me. I was having an internal pity party. My mind was filled with self-talk of how nothing ever works out for me, as I was reminiscing of all my failed relationships and wondering why I could never get my love life together. At that moment, I went to talk to a table, and saw that the lady in front of me had a deformed hand and arm. This lady had to take extra effort to pick up her fork to eat her food (something most of us do effortlessly). However, despite her disability, she had so much love, joy and happiness permeating through her. She did not seemed phased at all, had accepted her physical limitation, and worked with what she had. My mood instantly changed, as I realized I had to stop focusing on what I didn’t have and start appreciating what I do have.
Many of us take for granted the basic use of our limbs. We use our hands and arms for just about everything: eating, brushing your teeth, combing your hair, driving, typing, playing an instrument, etc. If this was one day taken away from us, I’m sure the majority of us would be devastated. So in those moments, whenever I start to feel upset, down, sad, worried or frightened, I’ll always think back to my encounter with Captain Hook and the No-Armed Lady to remind me that life is precious and maybe I don’t have it so bad after all.
by Kristin Bach