A walk down memory lane reminded me of the impact a stranger’s kindness can have
The personal stories I will be sharing below have one thing in common: they exhibit the beauty of genuine human connection. Reflecting on moments like these has reminded me that life is about the people we share it with, and I hope they remind you of that as well.
My family moved to our second house in California when I was 10 years old. I was excited because this meant that there would be new houses and neighbors to meet. At this point in my life, my parents had to have the “don’t talk to strangers” conversation with me more than the average child. I loved (still love) meeting people and hearing about their stories. Besides chatting with anyone I crossed paths with, I was also a Girl Scout. I wore my Brownie’s vest proudly — featuring my unfortunate bangs and missing teeth.
My best friend and I would walk around the neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies. We had lived in that neighborhood for a couple months by then, so I was familiar with most of the neighbors. We wandered towards the end of the street where the houses were unfamiliar. I knocked on the door of a simple tan house, not expecting much.
A few seconds later, the door was opened by an elderly man. His oxygen tank rumbled loudly, and my eyes immediately darted to the tubes that were in his nose, giving him life as we spoke. My Grandpa had an oxygen tank in the final years of his life as well, so I understood that they were uncomfortable and not a good sign of long term health. The man seemed excited to meet us, and we stayed on the front porch, talking about our Girl Scout Troop and favorite types of cookies. He was very kind, but his heavy breathing gave away how hard it was for him to stand for more than a couple of minutes.
Our new friend ended up buying more than the usual customer. I remember his favorites were thin mints. I was excited as it was a very big sale for me, and that year, I was trying to sell the most boxes out of my troop.
It was not long before I went back to deliver the elderly man his thin mints. I was confused by the silence on the other end of the door after I knocked. My mom called the number that was on the cookie form, and a relative informed us that he had passed away just a few days after buying cookies from us. They also mentioned that his death was expected. This man knew that he would most likely not receive the thin mints and had steep medical expenses, but he still chose to make a $50 purchase. He was a kind stranger who genuinely wanted to bring joy to us girls while he was going through a dark time.
A conversation can be forgotten just moments after the final words are spoken. But this 10 minute talk with a South African tour guide will always stay imprinted in my mind. During my sophomore year at Azusa Pacific, I had the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa.
The cohort was on a tour exploring the city of Bo Kaap in Capetown. Bo Kaap has a deep history that is intertwined with apartheid, a 20th century “system of legislation that upheld segregationist policies against non-white citizens,” according to History.
One of the pivotal historical moments for the city took place in 1950 with the implementation of the “Group Act” which declared that only Muslims could live in Bo Kapp and that everyone else had to leave. Throughout the tour, we learned more about the social changes in Bo Kaap that have happened there since.
The pivotal conversation took place while we were hosted for lunch by a local home. While we were chatting, over homemade Samosas, I asked the tour guide if he had read the books by Khaled Hosseini, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” and “The Kite Runner.” I had read both books within the past year and both explain various aspects of culture in Afghanistan and the Islam faith.
One of the main themes in “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” is the gender inequality that is still rooted in the Muslim culture. Part of the storyline revolves around the husband making his wife wear a hijab or burka as a form of control. The tour guide had read both books, and I asked him if it was common for men of the Islamic faith to use head coverings as a form of control.
His answer was pure and made things very clear to me. He told me that for most Muslim women (including his wife), the Burka or Hijab is an individual choice that empowers them. He explained that women are not judged by their beauty but by their wit and soul. This shocked me to tears because of the stark contrast between Western culture — where plastic surgery has become the norm of achieving ‘ideal’ beauty.
I don’t know if the tour guide remembers that conversation among the hundreds of students he talked to, but it has stayed with me.
Turns out, human connection can happen through social media. This moment took place several weeks ago over Zoom. The looming uncertainty of future employment had been weighing heavily on mind, and I wasn’t exactly ecstatic to attend my evening public relations class.
It happened to be that Greg Yoder, a professional journalist, was our guest speaker for the night. To my surprise, the class I was feeling so tired for quickly turned into a learning experience. I found out that Yoder works for an organization called Keys for Kids, which provides community services nationally, and will be launching internationally soon. They specialize in airing daily devotions and radio for children, giving them ‘keys to life,’ if you will.
At the end of our discussion, the Zoom call was open to questions. I asked Yoder if he had any tips for entering the journalism field right now, during a time of extreme uncertainty. He told me to not give up my dreams, and that the world needs honest journalists. It may have seemed like a small act of encouragement, but to me, his words meant everything.
I was exhausted after hours of scrolling through online job boards and Googling new places to live. I was even questioning journalism because of the clear bias that exists in the field today.
It was refreshing to hear those words, “Don’t give up on your dreams.”
Acts of kindness are powerful and can even translate even through a screen — so next time you interact with someone, remember that a positive moment can have a lasting impact.