Witnessed Kindnesses; small Contest (!)

A story:

The summer after my junior year in college, my friend Ruby and I did the whole back-packing thing. Three billion countries in thirty days with naught but a distended fanny pack and 40-litre book-bag to contain the accumulated sprawl of our lives.

You know the deal. Old news.

Anyway, one night in Venice (perhaps our first), we and a few friends we’d met at our campsite ended up missing the last bus from town back to the site. Or, more accurately, we took the wrong bus, going in the opposite direction of the campsite, because we misunderstood the bus driver. By the time we had the sense to turn our heads window-ward and observe the darkened and very unfamiliar stretch of highway before us, we were very far away.

I guess we were grumbling about this, or, you know, maybe shrieking hysterically and pinballing up and down the aisles of the bus, (but probably just grumbling), because by the time the bus squeaked into its final resting place, a fellow passenger had grown keen to our plight. He told us the bad news: there were definitely no more buses around, so we’d have to hope for a stray cab–also improbable at this hour–and then, very genuinely, wished us the best of luck. Everyone filed off the bus, and we made our way to the side of the road to wait.

This was some desolate shit, I tell you what. Hardly any cars passed, none of them cabs, and no one was stopping. No one was even slowing down. They were probably speeding up, come to think of it. No one blamed them; we understood. Bunch of scraggly kids on the side of the road in the middle of the night. We would have done the same.

Over an hour passed before someone finally heeded the call of our out-stretched thumbs. We couldn’t believe it. We may have been delirious at this point, sure of nothing but that what we were seeing was a kind of collective wine-drunk mirage. We approached the car, cautious, nervous, desperate.

Our rescuer turned out to be the roommate of the man we’d spoken to on the bus. Both men were West African, new-ish to Italy. He told us our bus-friend had come home and told him about us–that we were lost, that it was likely we were still on the side of the road, waiting–and so, knowing nothing about us but this, he came to find us. It was almost two a.m., maybe later; we figured out during the ride that he had to be at work at seven. He didn’t mind.

He drove us to a hotel in town where it would be easy for us to get a cab. We pooled some money together in the back seat, offered it to him. He refused to take it. He didn’t want it. He hadn’t come to help us for that, but because we were lost, in a country we couldn’t even begin to properly navigate, in dark night. That was reason enough for him.

I think of this man still. I think about him sometimes in this city, where it’s hard even to smile at someone on the street, or be smiled at, without wondering: what do they want from me? Do they think I want something from them? I have learned the suspicions of a big city here. I have sucked them down and let them bottom in my belly. I wrap them around me sometimes like a coat and they allow me to cordon myself off from kindness, from being kinder.

I do not want this. I want to remember this tired foreign man who offered a ride to other tired, foreign strangers in the middle of the night on a barren freeway in the outskirts of Venice. I want to remember that that kind of kindness is still possible, that it’s a choice we make, that we can keep it.

So, thank you, West African man whose name I cannot remember. You’re really awesome.

A challenge/contest of sorts:
In the spirit of said man, I’d like to offer a drawing of a creature of your choosing to the first three people who respond to this post with their story of witnessed kindness. It doesn’t have to be long (I tend to ramble…), but I want to hear it. (Granted, I don’t even know if three people are reading this, you know? But, let’s give it a go.)
The creature can be mailed to you, anywhere, and if you don’t have a creature in mind–I use the word “creature” loosely here–I can create one for you!! Joy of joys!!!
p.s.  even if more than three people are reading this, and respond, I still want you to post your story.


About kateellison

Author, artist, weirdo
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3 Responses to Witnessed Kindnesses; small Contest (!)

  1. Alison T says:

    I’m trying to think of one! I keep thinking of nice things that have been done to me . . . but most of it has come from friends and family and I want to think of one with a stranger . . . . oh! i have one! This is a pretty nice one I think. Here is the tale:

    My grandma has a really nice family that lives next door to her that moved in not more than 5 years ago. It is a husband and wife and they have 2 little girls and 2 little boys. They are pretty much the most attractive family to have ever existed. Somehow they managed to become very involved in all the important goings-on of my family in a very short amount of time. First of all, they come over to visit my grandma very often. My grandma loves kids, but she can’t volunteer at a daycare anymore like she used to because her immune system can’t handle it, so she is very happy to have 4 little blonde kids coming over to play with toys and drink lemonade. They even threw a special birthday party for her one year and came over with a cake and balloons, which made her very happy. This family, the mother Casey, in particular, has also been really involved in the harder times we’ve gone through. She was the one to drive my grandma to the hospital when my grandpa died, and has been present at all of our family’s funerals the last few years. She has really been like a guardian angel living right next door, bringing very much happiness to my grandma in good times and taking care of her in bad. Keep in mind that my grandma is not some feeble old lady at all. My grandma lives with one of her other daughters who is there to help as well, so it’s not like she’s all alone. She still drives and gets her own groceries, so it’s not like she’s incapable. I get the feeling that Casey would be doing all of these things no matter who or how old her neighbor was.

    But here is my most special witnessed-kindness memory of her. Casey didn’t have any sort of deep relationship with my mom. The central connection to our family was definitely through my grandma. She was really just my grandma’s neighbor, as far as my mom’s relationship to her was concerned. In June 2011, my mom went into hospice care after a year of fighting bone cancer. I slept there on a pull-out bed every night while my mom was largely unconscious. People would have to remind me to take a shower or to eat something, because all I wanted to do was sit with my mom and hold her hand. At night when everyone would be gone, it would be kind of fun like a sleepover with just me and mom, but I would feel guilty when I actually fell asleep. Since mom always seemed asleep, I wasn’t sure if she was actually awake with her eyes closed when it was time for bed. Sleeping was a little bit difficult for me, and I would come in and out of it, as nurses would come in a couple of times throughout the night, and mom’s breathing had a sort of heavy uneven sound that my own breathing kept trying to find a rhythm with. I did sleep though. One morning I woke up around 7AM, and I glanced over at my mom, and she wasn’t alone. I saw Casey sitting at my mom’s bedside, holding her hand. She wasn’t saying anything, or doing anything; she just sat there for close to an hour holding my mom’s hand. When I first saw her I thought she was an angel. When Casey saw that I was awake, she came over and patted me on the head and asked how I was and tucked me in. I went back to sleep and she went back to sit with my mom. It ended up being the last morning my mom ever had, and it means a lot to me to know that she spent her last morning experiencing that kind of kindness from such a peripheral figure in her life.

  2. Why didnt I think about this? I hear exactly what youre saying and Im so happy that I came across your blog. You really know what youre talking about, and you made me feel like I should learn more about this. Thanks for this; Im officially a huge fan of your blog

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