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Avril Brown Presents:

“Ah’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

I’m not saying we should take Blanche DuBois’s words literally to heart (because things really didn’t turn out all that great for her) and depend on random acts of kindness, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate it when it happens. It is monumentally reassuring to know there are still people out there willing to aid their fellow man/woman just to help and to feel those warm fuzzies in their soul, the ones that let you know you did a good thing.

I was a recent recipient of the gracious help of a stranger when I was heading back to Chicago from New York City. I’m a cheap bastard (mainly because I have to be) and in order to save a few bucks I flew into Newark International Airport rather than NYC. Thanks to the Airtrain and the New Jersey Transit System it is relatively simple to get from Newark to Manhattan, and I did not have any trouble getting into the city, which should’ve been enough to tip me off that the return journey was going to be a complete cluster-fuck. Which, of course, it was.

My subway train to Penn Station was snail-crawling its way through the tunnels before the operator announced the train was being rerouted back to Brooklyn, so I was already running late by the time we finally got to a stop. I hailed a cab (now all of which come with backseat entertainment in the form of touch-screen TV’s. Nifty!), got to the Station, purchased my ticket and got directions as to the location of my train. I board and begin to settle down a bit, striking up a conversation with a nice lady who’s also from Chicago and told her I was flying out of Newark Intl. when the gentleman next to me says, “Uh, I think you’re on the wrong train.”

Eight words from a kind stranger saved me I don’t know how much grief. He gave accurate directions as to where I could find my train as I managed to utter a ‘Thank you so much!’ and a ‘Nice to meet you!’ at the lady whilst I screamed ‘SHIT!’ in my head, grabbed my bags and hauled ass. If it were not for that gentleman, I’d be lost in the bowels of the New Jersey railways. I was so grateful there are people still willing to help other people (sometimes just by speaking up) I was in a cheery mood for the rest of the day. This elation prompted me to pay the kindness forward in a very rare form for me; namely, I shared my food.

Not just any food: a New York City deli-bought black and white cookie, one of the tastiest cookies known to man. I expressed my fear to the man behind me in the security line at the airport that my precious confection would somehow be considered a risk to the safety of the friendly skies and be confiscated, and he confessed he had no idea what a black and white cookie was. I gasped in horror and quickly launched into all the reasons why this is one of the greatest cookies ever invented. Turns out we were on the same flight, so I decided to share my precious cookie with him, thus changing his life forever. Now I have created another B&W addict and got myself a new pen-pal to boot.

Alright, sharing one’s dessert is no earth-shattering mitzvah, but it still felt good, inspiring me to continue along this path of righteousness and to call attention to other forms of kindness in this world.

The movie Amélie is about a young woman who is given the opportunity to return a long lost object to its previous owner. She is so pleased when her act of kindness has such positive results she goes on a mission of sorts, doing more and more good deeds both for strangers and the people close to her. In the end, with a little help from her friends, she finally does one for herself.

In X-Men Unlimited #11, Rogue and Joseph (a younger-looking genetic clone of Magneto who was suffering from amnesia and didn’t know he was a clone at the time…don’t ask) are attacked by the fanatical members of Humanity’s Last Stand, an anti-mutant group. Once again even though the humans were the ones to initiate the battle and the mutants were the ones who ended up saving innocent bystanders, Rogue and Joseph were berated out of town by angry townspeople. Joseph continues to question the X-Men’s credo: committed to protecting a world where people both fear and hate mutants, until he sees the reason why unfold before his eyes. Rogue had been living with a single mom and her little boy, and as she is about to return to the X-Men, the boy tells her he knows he can’t because of her powers, but he would hug her if he could. “That’s why we do it, Joseph,” she says, “for the innocents, the ones who ain’t been taught t’hate yet. Our hope for tomorrow.”

A friend of mine was at Grant Park for Barack Obama’s election party and his acceptance speech (I was probably the only under-30 Democrat living in Chicago who wasn’t in Grant Park that night). He was moving around the whole night and witnessed groups of people clustered around digital cameras, cell phones, old radios, anything which brought Obama’s face or voice closer to hand. Mostly they didn’t know their neighbor from Adam, but people were sharing their electronic devices as well as their personal space to allow everyone to be a part of that momentous occasion. People were feeling that incredible unifying energy of expectation, joy, and the belief there may be hope for us yet. Call it chivalry, call it the Christian spirit, call it karma, label it however you want. I like to call it one the healthiest ways to have fun. There are few other natural highs quite like the one you get by helping someone out just because you can. Give it a try and you’ll likely find a smile on your face to match the one on the complete stranger you assisted. To borrow the general wording from a bumper sticker I’ve seen quite often: Be the kindness you want to see in strangers.

Avril Brown

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