I sort of stole this post’s title from the name of an article in the latest edition of The Sun magazine by Brian Jay Stanley. Stanley’s piece is a study of “otherness”; an answer to the question: “who is a stranger?” in which he explores the bonds that we share with each other. It’s a wonderful essay and is excerpted here.
I am indebted to Anne Ellinger, the Executive Director of Bolder Giving, who sent me a subscription to The Sun. The most recent issue has been especially filled with riches for me. In addition to Stanley’s article, there is a quote on the back page that really hit home:
True compassion does not come from wanting to help those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings. – Pema Chodron
I love that. It really gets to the heart of what these gifts of hundreds have been about for me. More than “helping those in need,” I’ve been offering a hundred and fifty strangers a secret handshake. A tap on the shoulder. “Hey, I see you standing there. I do; I see you.”
A biological need for gelato took me in the direction of NE 28th today. I had a hundred in my pocket and was on the lookout for strangers. There was no shortage, but people were mostly out in pairs and families. I was looking for someone on their own.
I slowed down by the laundromat at the corner of 28th and Glisan on my way home. Through the window I saw a young woman sitting on a bench with a textbook. Math, and lots of it. I stepped inside to get a better look and found myself in the middle of a tense situation.
A woman was standing up with perfect posture, her eyes fixed on someone on the other side of the room. “You telling me to leave? Is that what you’re telling me?” she said loudly. A man shot back, “I’m just saying – if you’re not happy with the machines, maybe you shouldn’t come back. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Is that all you’re saying?” the woman challenged. A man standing by one of the dryers was slowly shaking his head. “Don’t even try with him,” he advised. “You won’t get anywhere.” The woman wheeled a basket with her clothes over to one of the dryers and called a boy over to help her. I thought about approaching her, although those flashing eyes gave me pause.
“Here, take this to the car.” She handed the boy something, along with a set of keys, and he stepped outside to a Cadillac Escalade parked right on the corner. Nice car, I thought. Then, before I even knew what I was doing, I mentally crossed her off my list. I’m all for communing with strangers, I guess, unless they drive a Cadillac. Sheesh.
Then I noticed that the woman with the math book was across the street putting her clean laundry into her car. I dashed over, saying “excuse me!” before she could get behind the wheel. She turned and looked at me with a quizzical expression I have seen so many times before. “Yes?”
“I’m on a mission today,” I said. “And I’m wondering if you could help me out.” She looked skeptical. “I guess it depends what the mission is.”
“Well,” I started out, wondering what exactly was going to come out of my mouth. “I’m on a mission to make the world a little smaller, that’s it. Does that make sense to you?” She smiled just a little and nodded. “Yeah, I guess. So, you’re trying to meet people?”
I agreed and said I was trying to remind myself and others that we are all in this together; all connected somehow. “Yeah, I get it,” she said. She was nodding and smiling. Then I told her that I was paying forward a gift and asked if she was open to being on the receiving end. She was friendly but noncommittal. “I guess it would depend on what the gift was.”
“It’s this.” I took out the bill and held it out. “Oh, that’s too much!” she cried. “I could never take that!” She said she thought it was amazing that someone would offer her a hundred bucks, but that there are lots of people who need it more than she does.
“Well, how about if you give it to one of them?” I asked her. “That’s kind of what this whole ‘we’re in it together’ thing is about.” She thought for a minute and then she took the bill. She reached out and shook my hand. “My name’s Katie,” she said
She told me she’s studying Accounting, although she has a degree in literature (or was it English?). She likes math and it’ll pay the bills.
As we were saying goodbye, she told me she had someone in mind she could help with the money. “I think you’re an amazing person,” she said.
So are you, Katie. So are you.
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