The Kindness of Strangers
“In the cherry blossom’s shade
there’s no such thing
as a stranger.”
― Kobayashi Issa
I wasn’t expecting to like Utah.
“Why are you going to Utah? To see the Mormons?” asked a colleague.
“It’s a writing conference,” I said. I’ve long wished that my writing teachers either lived close by or staked their territory in, say, Thailand.
But David Farland posts intelligent writing tips from Utah every day. I knew I would learn from him. This was a writing conference on both business and the writing craft that coincided with my finishing the first really coherent draft of my latest novel, Stockholm Syndrome. And, when I asked if I could bring my eight-year-old son Max, he wrote something to the effect of, I think he would be fine. Once Stephanie Meyer brought her children to one of my classes at BYU. We might even be able to find him a babysitter.
Well! I knew Utah would be family-friendly, but this was the ultimate. I booked our flights.
“I don’t know why you’re bringing him,” said my husband, Matt, who was volunteering to stay home with our daughter.
I wasn’t so sure, either. I started getting more stressed, especially when it looked like Dave might not be able to find a babysitter, and when I found that we couldn’t take the fast train from Salt Lake City to Orem on Sunday because, guess what, the train doesn’t run on Sundays! Aaaagh!
At the last minute, though, they gave me a name and number, and Dave’s niece, Marie, sounded super friendly on the phone even as she wrangled with three young children. She lives outside of Orem, so we’d have to rent a car to get to her house and then back and forth from the workshop, but not only did she offer to babysit Max for free, but she said, “Why don’t you both stay at our house?”
“Uh…” I couldn’t imagine inviting two strangers into our home 24/7. But I also didn’t think it made sense to drive two hours a day, shuttling Max back and forth from the hotel.
“We can put you up! It’s no problem.”
I hesitated. I usually don’t stay with people I’d never met. I’ve done airbnb, but when I mentioned couchsurfing, Matt absolutely vetoed the possibility. But Matt wasn’t coming. So I said, “Well. If you don’t mind.”
Then she ended up e-mailing me to say, “How about we pick you up at the airport?”
“Well, thank you, but we’re flying in on Saturday, so we’re staying at the Airport Inn, and then we’re going to explore Salt Lake City on Sunday and either do an airbnb or rent a car.”
“Oh, no. We’ll pick you up from the airport on Saturday. It’s only half an hour away. And then I have a minivan. We’ll tour Salt Lake City on Sunday together!”
Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such hospitality in my life. Honestly. And one of my stresses in travelling, especially with a kid, is trying to organize everything single-handed. So here was a native offering to do everything for us. What could I say?
Much as I love my parents, generosity and hospitality to strangers was not high on their priority list. They’d fight over the group restaurant bill, but my mom’s motto might be, “Family first.” Even “Family only.” So I’ve had to consciously learn kindness to strangers, thanks to people like Marie and Dave.
Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.
Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.
If we don’t change from a world society that worships money and power to one that worships compassion and generosity, I think we’ll be extinct by mid-century.
This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself. Keep your mind open to the influences of nature. Receive new thoughts with hospitality. Let us advance.―Robert G. Ingersoll, The Liberty of Man, Woman and Child
P.S. I’ll leave my Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy excerpt up for another week to celebrate the debut party on Wednesday at the Williamstown Library at 10:30 a.m. The perfect way to celebrate April Fool’s!