February 14, 2013

The Helpfulness of Strangers

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I have recently been taking care of my wife after she had major surgery.  Her recovery has been slow, though steady, and the experience has caused me to reflect on helpfulness from strangers.  It is far too easy to forget the good that we can do when bombarded daily with images and stories about the bad, which annoyingly receives extensive coverage, regardless of where you look.

Helpfulness from strangers takes many forms and really happens often when you stop and think about it.  When I was a teenager, my father was driving my mother and I back home from a trip to San Francisco.  We were about half way across the Golden Gate bridge when a tire blew out in our car.  My father was able to keep control of the vehicle, but there was no place to pull over. Worse, as we slowed traffic started to go around us at unsafe speeds.  Just then, a highway patrol motorcycle officer noticed our plight and cut across several lanes of traffic to get to us.  He put his lights on and motioned for my father to continue to drive forward as best that he could, which was very slow because we were quickly down to driving on a rim in the blown out tire.  It was rush hour and even though the officer was behind us, cars were still flying past, and more than once they came incredibly close to hitting the officer.  It seemed like forever until we finally crossed the bridge and made it to the first exit.  We parked on the nearest wide shoulder and the officer radioed in for a tow truck.

Clearly, the officer was doing his job, but he did it with little regard for his own safety and he executed it quickly and instinctively.  My father was Deputy Director of the State Department of Corrections at that time and was so grateful that he wrote a letter to Head of the California Highway Patrol commending the officer on the actions he took to assist us that day.

Years later, another less dramatic example of helping happened when I was a soldier returning home from overseas on emergency leave.  My flight had been delayed by a layover in London, so when the plane landed at JFK airport in New York it was very late.  I was not able to get a connecting flight to the West Coast until the morning.  I also had no means to get a hotel at that time and so I was forced to wait at the airport.  It was cold and damp, and I was tired and sitting in a chair with my bags when security asked me to leave.  I had no place to go when an elderly lady next to me apparently figured that out and motioned for me to follow her.  From all appearances she lived on the streets, so I was understandably a little hesitant to follow, but out of desperation I did.  She led me to another distant terminal that had flights departing all night and did not close.  I smiled, thanked her, and found a chair to make myself comfortable in until morning.  Unlike the CHP officer, she did not have to help, but she did and it made a difference.


Another time happened years later when my wife and our then very young children were driving home from a Thanksgiving trip we had just taken.  We were in the Sierra Nevada mountains and it had just gotten dark and it started to snow.  The snow quickly turned to near blizzard conditions and so I stopped to put chains on the tires.  I installed them quickly and we were back on our way.  A short while later, and many miles away from any town or service station, one of the chains slipped off with a loud clang.  I stopped and realized that a part was now missing rendering the chains useless.  We also discovered that there was no cell coverage in the area and the snow showed no signs of letting up.

As my wife and I discussed our options, an old van pulled up behind us with a Hispanic family inside.  A man around my age stepped out, who spoke better English than I did Spanish, and told me that he could help.  He immediately took his shoe laces off and used them to tie the chains back into place.  He then said that he would follow me and, before he walked away, I pulled out some money and offered it to him with my sincere thanks.  He smiled and politely refused my offer and went back to his vehicle.

The storm worsened, but the unconventional repair actually held long enough to get us to the safety of a warm lodge.  A short time later we pulled into the parking lot and waved at the van as they drove passed us and traveled on down the highway in spite of the storm.

I thought about these, and similar helpful acts, when I took my wife to her first post operative medical appointment.  She required the use of a wheel chair due to the amount of walking involved.  While wheeling her around, strangers held doors open for us and politely offered assistance.  We also received help, and multiple offers of same, from numerous colleagues and coworkers.  I found myself humbled and extremely appreciative of all the help being offered.  I also wondered if this is what Mother Teresa had in mind when she said; “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”?

Few would dispute that nearly everyone benefits from helpful acts, in whatever shape or frequency they take, throughout our lives.  We would do well to remember that because, among other reasons, none of us know when we might suddenly find ourselves in need of help from a stranger!


  1. Well,

    God is good. We sometimes miss the obvious.

    It is obvious; there is a God partical acting in your life….always be kind to strangers; you may be entertaining Angels unaware.!

    Great post.


    Comment by PalomaGenios — February 14, 2013 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

  2. People can be so nice, we forget that when so many bad things go on in the world. We were in the desert once and got stuck in the sand-hubs forgot a shovel!! and this kind man and his wife came by with a tow rope and pulled us out and wouldn’t take any money either, they were just being nice. good info about shoelace!

    Comment by Enchanted Seashells — February 14, 2013 @ 3:03 pm | Reply

  3. Very thought provoking post – thank you

    Comment by Elle Hubbard — February 14, 2013 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  4. You were fortunate to meet God’s angels, who showed themselves in your time of need.

    These helpers are the ones I call “earth angels.” I have believed this for years, these angels are even among the homeless.

    Blessings ~ Maxi

    Comment by Maxi — February 14, 2013 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

  5. Such a great post — as usual. Really made me think of all of the blessings that have been bestowed on me in my life. My favorite part was your quote of Mother Teresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Wow — we all need to step back and really think about those words. So true.

    Thank you — and Happy Valentine’s Day. Best wishes to your wife for a speedy recovery. : )

    Comment by Nancy Arter — February 14, 2013 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  6. So true and well said. One person’s act of kindness can make a whole world of difference, and even if it only makes one or two people smile for a while, i’d say that its well and truly worthwhile. Thanks for the post.

    Comment by elkabella — February 14, 2013 @ 9:40 pm | Reply

  7. May your wife have a quick recovery. Saints appear in many forms.
    I recall a time when my car went off the road in winter and a stranger took the time to help me inspect the car, secure a dragging piece with a coat hanger, all while neither of us had gloves or hat. I never got his name, but his kind act helped get me home.

    Comment by tommiaw — February 14, 2013 @ 10:52 pm | Reply

  8. We sometimes doubt the world we live in. Have faith and trust in others. This is a perfect example. Beautiful.

    Comment by 2yearsofhealing — February 15, 2013 @ 12:40 am | Reply

  9. Thank you so much for following my blog. Much appreciated 🙂

    Comment by violetannie63 — February 15, 2013 @ 5:34 am | Reply

  10. What an encouragement this was! I’m so glad you posted this – thank you. And I do pray your wife is mending well, even though, as you say, it’s a slow process.

    Comment by LubbyGirl — February 15, 2013 @ 10:10 am | Reply

  11. I loved this post. As it ended I thought of all those who stand before the Great White Throne. Those receiving God’s grace do so because of selfless moments like this.

    Comment by remso — February 15, 2013 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

  12. I wish you and your wife all the best .Thank you for following my blog .

    Comment by roastfox — February 16, 2013 @ 12:18 am | Reply

  13. First, thank you for following my blog. And, I wish your wife a speedy recovery. However, I have to point out somethings. I’ve lived all over the world too, but I have to say that, in general, most people are not helpful, particularly those living on either coasts of the US in big cities. Also, I would suggest that as many times people do nice things for strangers, I see and experience more bad things that strangers do to me and mine, not to mention other strangers, by a very, very wide margin. This is very sad and it only seems to be getting worse. And, I have to wonder, if this is a trend that can be reversed — it would not seem possible. One can tell from just driving how rude and inconsiderate people have become. Lastly, I would note that great acts of kindness like those that you’ve written about do happen, and I myself have both performed acts of kindness and have been a recipient of acts of kindness; however, note how far apart those acts have come in your life. This is a strong testament of how bad things have become, and I believe that it is a function of how insecure and lost people have become. People don’t have anything to believe in anymore and don’t know right from wrong, good from bad, and just and unjust. It is sad, and until the country roots itself in a new moral philosophy that is just, I don’t think anything can get better and can only get worse.

    Comment by Alex H. Ahmedinejahd — February 16, 2013 @ 9:47 am | Reply

  14. What a wonderful post to remind us of the goodness in people! It is sometimes easy and expected to help family and friends so we are often surprised when strangers help with no thought of reward. I always feel better when I can help a stranger. Even a smile can make a difference!

    Comment by coastalcrone — February 16, 2013 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

  15. What a beautiful and wonderful post of love and appreciation. It reaffirms my beliefs…Where there is love, there is God!

    Comment by asklotta — February 17, 2013 @ 11:46 am | Reply

  16. Very moving and uplifting post. I was unaware of that Mother Teresa quote, it’s beautiful, thank you for sharing it and I wish your wife a swift recovery.

    Comment by smittenness — February 17, 2013 @ 6:29 pm | Reply

  17. Thank you for visiting and following my blog. I have only been doing this about a year and it is still a thrill to have people read my musings.

    You have a cheerful and encouraging blog. For another person with a similar take on the little bright spots in our days, check out http://www.blessingsincognito.weebly.com .

    Thanks again.

    Comment by SWL — February 18, 2013 @ 5:40 am | Reply

  18. It is indeed hard to remember people can be so kind when all we read and hear about is the evil the world is filled with today. Thank you for sharing these wonderful stories, it is nice to be reminded.

    Comment by Valentine Logar — February 18, 2013 @ 8:28 pm | Reply

  19. Fiorstly, I hope your wife will make a full and complete recovery soon.
    Some great and touching stories mentioned here.
    Theer is something especially moving when a complete stranger helps out for no reason other than beacuse they want to. It helps to reaffirm belief in the goodness in the world.

    Comment by memyselfandkids.com — March 3, 2013 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

  20. My dad just came home from the hospital Monday from an extended stay. We’ve been blessed by both strangers and acquaintances offering support. I believe the right people are sent at the right time to keep us going and hoping.

    Comment by L. Palmer — March 13, 2013 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

  21. Very nice. We forget what an influence we can have on other’s lives.

    Laura Hedgecock

    Comment by Laura Hedgecock — March 16, 2013 @ 12:19 pm | Reply

  22. Enjoyed this post makes me think of the many times strangers have helped me when i didnt expect it, kind of helps you forget about the uncaring people.

    Comment by treasures2cherish — September 18, 2013 @ 8:06 am | Reply

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