Ah, the kindness of strangers! We are having a second snowstorm, too soon after last week’s blizard, so I trudged out into the whiteout to get started on the shoveling, despite my annoyingly persistent respiratory sickness. To my surprise I found that somebody had already started carving canyons out of the snow behind my car. Yesterday I had left a note with my neighbor, whom I barely know other than the occasional hello, asking whether she knew someone whom I could pay for snow removal. So it must have been her, I thought, and then I saw her coming toward me, shovel over shoulder, like a modern day knight-in-winter-gear. She’s a cheerful woman, one of my town’s many Brazilian immigrants, who lives with her husband and stepsons and dog in the house next door. I got a lovely scolding to ‘get back inside so you won’t get sicker’ and that ‘we’ll take care of it, there are four of us!’ So I thanked her profusely and went back inside.
It’s not the first time that I’ve been at the receiving end of altruistic acts from people I don’t know, or don’t know well. One of my most remarkable and humbling experiences was at a convention several years ago, when a particularly virulent stomach bug hit, laying low hordes of attendees. I was afflicted particularly badly, lying in my hotel room with high fever, far from home. My roommate, understandably concerned about her own health, moved out. I contacted one of the organizers to request some dry crackers and ginger ale, and the result was extraordinary. Not only did this woman come in with a bag of edibles, but she re-arranged my ticket, and, because the hotel didn’t want sick people staying on, took me to her house, where she took care of me as a sister would, for three days. We may be used to the tender care of a daughter when we have the flu, or the comforting touch of a mother when we fell sick as children – but a stranger who would go to such lengths is a rare phenomenon. I lay on her couch and we talked about life, the universe, and everything, while she cooked bland stuff that I could eat. She herself got a mild version of the virus later on, but not for a moment did she complain, or indicate in any other way that my presence was anything other than a delight. I will never forget her. Sickness, or the threat of sickness generally brings out the worst in non-sick strangers. But then there are people like her, to restore my faith in humanity. One day I will write a story in her honor. I’ve already started exploring the theme of the kindness of strangers in my fiction (my Project Hieroglyph story ‘Entanglement’ being the first), but so far I haven’t written anything deserving of a dedication to someone like her.