Recall the Kindness of Strangers

“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.”

― Buddha Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni

This idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts. I found her list way before I started my blog, but I saved them for later for reasons that I do not have the vocabulary to express. I guess my best attempt would be to say that I followed my inclinations, God told me to, or the transcendence revealed itself to me in keeping the list. Part of me knew I was going to want to reference it later, and here we are.

I love the idea of prompts. I used to hate them, but over the past year I’ve learned the tremendous value in meditating on one idea for a while and writing it down.

I used to think this prompt was extra difficult because at the time when I found Cheryl Strayed’s prompt list, I could not think of scenario in which I can recall The Kindness of Strangers. Perhaps I was too cynical, but after reflecting upon the idea now, I have no trouble recalling an instance in which strangers were kind. Ha.

When I first found the prompt, I was wrestling with the idea that people could be kind, but that kindness was expensive in both energy and attention. So if people didn’t have to be kind, then they won’t. I foolishly concluded that kindness was a difficult and high achievement only to be obtained through righteous action and intense dedication. This was a issue because I believed that most people won’t voluntarily push themselves in this way and thus are not capable of kindness. This kind of thinking not only made it difficult to answer the prompt, but hung a slightly dark filter over my life.

So as a fun challenge to myself (and as a way to repent for my sins, so to speak), I’m going to recall a moment in which the kindness of strangers was obvious, but it will have to be during the time when I thought people were incapable of genuine kindness.

Before COVID-19 I was an event bag EMT, meaning I was the medical personnel on scene for various public or private events. I operated from my BLS (Basic Life Support) bag and would help patients in whatever limited way I could.

One day, I was an EMT for a motocross racing competition. It was one of my first events and I was nervous so I constantly ran through potential injuries and how to treat them in my head. The racetrack wasn’t that organized, so I had trouble finding the lady I needed to report to. After about 30 minutes of aimlessly wandering around, I encountered a lady who was frantically running around moving from one unfinished task to the next. I forgot her name, but for the sake of the story we’ll call her Peggy. She ended up being “in charge” of coordinating the competition.

I could tell she didn’t feel like he had an iota of control over anything. People who move quick and frantically do so because they typically feel out of control and beholden to everything and everybody around them. It’s subconscious and not something I would typically fault anyone for, but I like to keep that in mind when I’m helping patients in an emergency situation. I keep calm and try to make my movements as intentional and slow as possible without compromising the situation. It helps the patient feel like I have the situation under control, even if I don’t. Anyways, I digress.

She saw my uniform and instantly dropped what she was doing, ran up to me and asked “Are you my EMT?” I say yes and she gives me the biggest hug ever and quickly introduces me to everyone involved with the race competition for the day. Everyone was extremely nice to me. One lady offered me drinks and another gentleman offered to carry my bag and brought me a chair. Another lady even thanked me for my service; I said thank you, but I really I wanted to say that people should save those for the ones who actually put themselves in danger. It’s easier to just accept the gratitude in situations like these.

Talk about an overload of kindness. These people didn’t have to do any of that. But those aren’t the acts of kindness that make me remember this particular memory.

During the briefing, Peggy tells me that the day should be pretty easy, unless I see her running and screaming for an EMT. I was hoping it would be a smooth day and I could get paid just watching the races with my VIP treatment. Then, she asked me if I’ve ever driven a stick shift ATV. I kind of knew how to drive one, my friend and I drove a stick shift ATV one weekend in high school and I did alright. I let her know my experience and she seemed excited. I guess most EMTs who came through there didn’t know how to drive one, which makes a lot of sense. Peggy said that the EMTs get their own ATV so we can ride out to downed racers on the course.

For the first few hours the day was relaxed as I could wish for, I have never been to a racetrack like this so I had a good time watching the races and recording the racers start their vehicles. There was a point when I honestly forgot I was the EMT on duty, but then I see her.

Peggy running full speed towards me, screaming “I NEED AN EMT!” My little fantasy shatters and I suddenly remember, “I’m at work. Someone needs help.” I instantly start recalling potential injuries and treatments, grab my bag, and hoped on the ATV. Turning the key took a couple tries, but I got the ATV started and drove it over to the cash site. Not gonna lie, I felt like a real badass riding the ATV with my BLS bag going to help someone.

The patient ended up being a man in his mid-fifties who broke his collarbone. I handled that situation and after I send him to the hospital, I had to go back to the racetrack to bring my ATV back to the starting line where I was originally posted.

I hopped the fence of the racetrack, got back on the ATV, but this time I couldn’t get it to start.

I kept turning the key in the ignition and after a few tries, it broke in the ignition!

This ATV was not going anywhere. It was in the middle of racetrack and I had to get it out of the way for the next race. I really didn’t want to be the reason why we fall behind schedule. So I got behind the ATV and started pushing. This thing was heavy and I had to push it up a few hills to get it back to the starting line. I got it up the first one, but the second one was another story.

I’m halfway up the second hill and my arms give in, the ATV starts sliding back down, and I’m facing the reality that I’m going to have to work even harder to make this happen. At this point, I’m extremely embarrassed. I’m in the center of the arena and everyone is watching me having a really tough time. I remember wishing I could just be relieved of this problem.

Suddenly, some guy jumps the fence and rushes to help me push the ATV up. Both of us together get it over the hill and back to the starting line. As we were pushing, we exchange glances and I could tell he saw the appreciation in my eyes. I would not have been able to do that without him, and he knew that.

That man was kind. He saw me struggle, and he would not let me needlessly struggle alone. He lent a hand not to demonstrate power or moral superiority, he lend it because he was kind and reflecting back on that reminds me that strangers can be kind if we let them. Perhaps strangers have to capacity to act as the saving hand of God if they are called. People may not typically voluntarily push themselves to reach demanding and difficult standards, but sometimes they do, and when they do we ought to pause and reflect at the awe of the miracle this person chose to create.

The terrible part of all of this is that it didn’t take place long before I found the prompt list. This guy saved my ass and chose to create a miracle right before my eyes, but I could not see it because of my bias and unfounded belief that people didn’t have it in them to be kind.

The world I know is bigger than the world I can see. Intellectually, I know the world is more than what I can perceive, but it is truly breathtaking to see it actualized in my life.