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The Kindness of Strangers

Comment

I read a letter to the editor in a newspaper the other day.

The woman who wrote it had been standing in line at a dollar store with her two young daughters. She checked out and discovered there was less money on her debit card than she had thought. She couldn't pay.

And the guy behind her covered it for her, about $20 worth.

The woman wrote the letter to the editor because she wanted people to know that there were good hearts in her town.

And I slunk away because the thoughts I had when I read the letter were not the kind of thoughts you share these days.

I'm 55 years old. For a great portion of my life, a woman who found herself in that situation would have declined the stranger's aid. I know for a fact what my mother would have said.

"Thank you," my mother would have said to the kind stranger. "We don't need your charity."

Rude, no? I mean, the guy was being nice; Christian, even.

If pressed, my mother would have become angry and said, "We don't need your money." My father would have said something far more rude.

I'm a big believer in solidarity among the working class and the poor. I've never crossed a picket line in my life. I don't make fun of poorly dressed people who do their shopping in Wal-Mart. I give money to bums on the street, mostly because I'm embarrassed for them that they've sunk so low as to ask.

I know there are still people in America who, offered that stranger's $20, would have said, "I don't take nothin' from nobody," an ungrammatical declaration of freedom that was common in my youth, particularly among people who were having trouble making the rent.

It'd sure be a nicer world if the ones who had $20 would always give it to the ones who needed $20. That's what the Gospels were written to convey, and "The Communist Manifesto," though they differed sharply as to how this state of affairs was to be brought into existence.

I think there's fewer good, honest, rude, semi-starving people today who, when faced with a random act of kindness, will say: "Keep your money. I don't take nothin' from nobody."

Maybe that's good. Maybe we're learning to live together; maybe we are becoming the preachers' ideal of being "all one family." That woman got what she needed for her kids because of that kind stranger.

What those kids didn't get was the lesson that pride is worth everything, and they didn't get the story.

The story?

Yeah.

When you're in your 50s, or older, you crank yourself back in your office chair, and you tell the story.

"My mother was tough," you say. "One time, when I was a kid, we were in the store, and she got to the register and found out she didn't have enough money to pay.

"This guy in line behind us offered to help us out," you say. "My mother looked at him and she said, 'I don't take nothin' from nobody.'

"My mother," you say. "Oh, yeah, my mother was tough."

It's a good story, and you can't buy one like it in the dollar store.

Not with anybody's money.

To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2013 BY CREATORS.COM



Comments

2 Comments | Post Comment
"Tough" or stupid? If you're trying to feed your kids, you're gonna take the kindness of strangers. Especially if you're on the bottom through no fault of your own and you KNOW if the shoe were on the other foot you'd be the one offering. There's a scriptural verse which took me which took years to grasp: "pride goeth before a fall". When you've hit bottom, kids are hungry, you're hungry and a stranger offers to pay the tab. Allow it. It's a blessing for the stranger and it's a blessing for you. Pride is not a good thing. Scripture and the wisdom teachings of the ancients of all cultures deplore pride. It is a vice not a virtue.

MD, I enjoy your columns, I like how you write, you remind me of the pocketbook novels I read as a kid. But we're on different pages on this subject.
Comment: #1
Posted by: morgan
Fri Feb 8, 2013 6:02 PM
Good one Morgan... The way I see it; we have all been the poor helping out the poor while the rich have been helping themselves... Yes; we do need to help, and we should all try to wait until we are asked or until asking become totally unnecessary... And part of the is because giving is a form of relationship...It is nice to keep it all clean and sanitary, but it seldom is... We would like to keep the pain of poverty from pouring in on us, to give a twenty here or there and have that be an end to it, but that is a big reason why I write and try to be heard; because the problem is so vast and incurable as we are handling it, person to person, and with the poor taxed into poverty for the support of the worse off poor...It is a great psychological problem too since children raised in poverty are as likely as the rich to be intransigent in their situation...One must have the seed of hope to grow a tree out of, or your life will remain a desert... Naturally the rich can look at the oceans of poor and say: What would my small millions do to change this situation... True enough... To touch the poor, to sense their plight, to know them as human beings opens for us a door to hell without exit...
The problem is not poverty... You cannot fix the problem by attack; but by understanding... The problem is the result of the cause, and if the greatest and most resistent product of our economy is poor people in a rich land, then we have only recreated the late middle ages in a modern time... The fact that we accept the problem as insurmountable only makes changing it more difficult; but it must be changed and it depends for change on the sort of morality people demonstrate when they help one another... The ability to relate is essential to the buiding of new forms of relationship...
Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Feb 10, 2013 7:27 AM
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