Adding Up the Kindness of Strangers

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff was not a book I was excited about reading. When I picked it up for my book club, I peeked inside to find that it was all correspondence -- I groaned.

I loath books that have lots of letters or diary entries. I like to dig into a delicious narrative not the ramblings of people's daily lives. Nevertheless, I quickly banished all preconceived judgments, adopted an attitude of curiosity, and thought to myself, "Maybe this book has something to teach me."

I'm going to have to give one of the gals in my book club a big hug for putting 84, Charing Cross Road on the list for it charmed my heart and taught me a lot about the kindness of strangers.

84, Charing Cross Road is a true story of a 20-year friendship cultivated solely through the correspondence between a dry-witted, New York writer Helene Hanff, who is passionate for English literature, and a reserved, thoughtful, and intelligent British bookseller Frank Doel.

It isn't a grand passion between Helene and Frank, but a beautiful, slow growing appreciation of each others spirit through their love of a good read and the aesthetics of books. Underneath the poking fun and professional stoicism is a deep fondness that extends beyond their letters and into the world of their family, friends, and co-workers.

Helene makes her book requests and dutifully the booksellers at Mark & Co. locate and send these treasures across the Atlantic. In return, Helene sends her extended British book-loving family friendly words and much needed eggs, nylons, and meat sorely missed after World War II forced England to remain on rations.

Through their subtle choice of words, tone, and changing manner of greeting and closing a letter you sense the deep fondness Frank and Helene have for each other. It's a relationship built on kindness and mutual affection for books.

This is my simple religion. 
There is no need for temples; 
no need for complicated philosophy. 
Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; 
the philosophy is kindness.
- Dalai Lama

Lately, I've been thinking about kindness a lot. It appears to take a back seat to romantic love and burning passion; however, after the intense flames and heat of an intimate relationship die out, one of the things that can be left in the ashes is a beautiful, sustaining kindness.

Kindness is so simple to give and is not limited to age, gender, culture, abilities, or how well you know someone. In fact, when I add up all the kindness I have received from strangers, the amount of love I've been given is quite staggering.

Kindness seems subtle and seemingly small, but in truth it's immense and expansive. Just one act of kindness can start a chain reaction of loving-kindness spreading who knows how far.

Here are a few examples of the kindness I've received from strangers during my life. What if you added up all the kindness you've received today? What would do as a result? Where would it lead?

  • Bus driver who dropped me off closer to home because I had a lot to carry
  • People who have danced and sung next to me at concerts
  • Mechanic who spontaneously gave me a discount on my oil change
  • People who have offered me a smile, "hello," handshake, or hug
  • Strangers who have let me pet their dogs
  • People who have held the door open for me
  • A friendly guy who volunteered to back up my trailer 
  • The thoughtful person who shared their water with me when I ran out
  • Generous women who have baked me cookies
  • People who have laughed at my jokes
  • Chef who sent us a special dish

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. This makes me remember, especially over the last months, the wonderful kindness I've been shown by complete strangers... the clerk in Target who said my hair looked beautiful after it had just started coming back in ( I cried), the young woman who helped me with my bag on a plane when I just was too weak to manage, the trucker who brought us water when we got tied up in a stop on the interstate because of an accident...really I could go on and on. Thank you so much in this prompt to reflect on the little (huge)things I am grateful for.

    Kindness is so 'cost' free isn't it?


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