Monday, June 4, 2012

I also depend on the kindness of strangers.

I posted this on another blog and want to include the thoughts on this blog.  Blanche DuBois’ famous last line in “A Streetcar Named Desire” is "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Her state of mind aside, I identify that line. I know that at some time I’ll need some small or large kindness and someone will provide it.

A very nice woman in my neighborhood recently called and said her husband had died. She wanted to have a Jewish service for him and needed to find 10 Jewish men to fulfill the requirements. Did I know someone who could attend the next night?

I wrote to a few mailing lists, sent notes to some people I know, and hoped there would be enough people to help. I think there were 25-30 people in attendance, far more than needed or expected. People went out of their way after work to help someone they did not know. I don’t know who most of them were or how they were notified, but they helped a stranger.

It was a very touching demonstration of community, what it means to need help and what happens when you ask.

We live in a particular point in time and in a society where independence is everything, we don’t like to ask anyone for favors and certainly don’t want to ask for help. The problem with this line of thinking is that we all need some kind of help at some time, and then we don’t have the tools to know how to ask, who we can count on.

There are small and large kindnesses, and I wrote recently on another blog about this. It could be that someone holds the door open rather than let it close on me. I appreciate that. Kind remarks, a sincere "How are you?" or "What can I do to help you?" are nice. I recently led a workshop and one attendee stayed and complimented me, then asked if there was anything he could do to help me. Did I have any business goals or needs where he could be helpful? I was so surprised as that kind of thing rarely happens. Usually people just thank me or want to connect on LinkedIn. I noticed that kindness.

It could be a small matter to you but it means a lot to the person on the receiving end. A friend told me he was feeling terribly low during an extended period of unemployment. One of his friends took him out to lunch every few weeks, followed up to see if anyone in his network could be of assistance. He offered friendship and emotional support, and 11 years later, my friend remembered to pass this on to another unemployed friend.

On this site, I address difficult family issues.  Sometimes people write or call with questions or comments, and I think being here helps some people.  I know when I have someone listen to me talk about my own problems, it helps.

The first question is this: what can you do, what small or large kindness or help can you offer to another person? And of course the next question is: are you doing it? We get so involved in our own lives and worries that it's easy to overlook others, but once our awareness is raised, it's time to take action. Go out and make it a great day for someone!