The Kindness of Strangers
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.
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.
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