The Kindness of Strangers

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

–Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

In a strange convergence of life, this quote is especially meaningful to me today. This week I found it applied to my life in many ways. And, in a weirder coincidence, James Gandolfini passed away yesterday. He was young, only 51, and he got his big break in a Broadway version of the play from which the above quote comes. Even though his character wouldn’t have said the line, unless he played a gender-bending Blanche Dubois, it still seems fitting to have this post the day after his death.*
I’ve been feeling a little down-on-my-luck lately, not for the first time, likely not for the last time (so it’s just something I need to work through), but it bears noting that I’m going through a stressful time. In addition to career uncertainty and the possibility of moving, my car started shuddering when I was leaving my parents’ house on Monday. It could have been much worse: as it was, they were able to loan me one of their cars and I didn’t have to miss extra work (I had taken Monday off so I could spend more time with family), plus I was right near an auto care store when it happened, so I didn’t have to drive far with a shuddering engine. One costly repair later, I’m hoping the car will be fixed and fully operational** sometime today. Life is funny, though, because the night I found out about my car issues I got an email reminding me that my student loans*** are now due.

Although my parents lent me a car to use, it’s a manual and I’m a little rusty, so I didn’t feel super comfortable driving across the Cities in rush hour to get to my class. I put out a message to my classmates asking for a ride, hoping someone would help me out. Even though we haven’t known each other that long, these people, who were strangers to me three months ago (or even one month, in some cases) have become really important to me. And, I to them, as it turns out, because two people offered me rides, and I know the rest would have offered if they could have. Or, they would have at least missed me if I couldn’t make it. Riding with Alli to class, I was reminded of how much I like meeting new people. We have a fair amount in common, she and I, and I enjoyed getting to know her better. She was my first improv friend (we met the night of our audition, another night I depended on the kindness of strangers) and this was the first time I got to talk to her one-on-one for a length of time.

Last night, I depended on the kindness of strangers again. As I mentioned, my parents let me borrow a car. I haven’t consistently driven a stick shift in a while, so I’m not used to the nuances. Because I drove in on Monday and there is no parking on my side of the street Tuesdays from 2AM-7AM (and it’s not my car) I didn’t park in my usual spots of in front of the building or in the back lot. Instead, I parked on a side street. On a hill. With a manual transmission. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, since people don’t typically park there, but it’s across from a church, so Sunday mornings (and Wednesday nights) there is more traffic. And, on this Wednesday, someone parked behind me. It would have been enough space if I were in an automatic. Or, not in a manual car parked on a hill. Or, I hadn’t put the car in reverse to avoid hitting the car in front of me when I was pulling out.

If you can picture me sliding further and further back (in the same exact spot where I needed to be towed before my improv audition****), then you know what the crowd of people sitting on the church steps witnessed. Seriously, there were at least four people. And a baby. I don’t think the baby was judging, but I could see the rest of them watching me. Nothing like having an audience to your mistakes. When it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to get out of the spot, I got out of the car. The spokeswoman for my audience came over.

“Do you want me to see if we can have the owner move the car behind you?” she asked. She then went inside and found the owner of the car behind the car behind mine (but not the car behind mine). That person moved her car and the original woman caught the attention of the man who owned the house I was parked alongside. He didn’t own the car either, but he was a little more judgmental than the stoop-sitters.

“Drive safely and don’t hit anyone else,” he told me.

“I didn’t hit anyone,” I protested, but he went back into his fenced-in house and returned to not answering the doorbell.*****

I wouldn’t have driven and almost went back in my apartment, but I’m watering my friend’s plants while she is out of town, and I didn’t make it over (because of the car) Monday or Tuesday, and when I went to bike to her house last night, I realized both of my tires are flat and I didn’t have time to deal with them. I didn’t want to be responsible for killing her plants the first week she was gone, but I couldn’t think of how to get out of the spot without hitting the car behind me.

“Do you think we could push her out?” the original woman who helped me asked her fellow stoop-sitters. So they did. I put the car in neutral (between gears, for those of you who don’t know manual transmission) and four or five people–complete strangers not beholden to me whatsoever–pushed me out of my spot so I could continue on my way. I was flustered (and still on a hill) so I didn’t want to stop and get out to thank them and I kept pushing up instead of down on the automatic windows, but I shouted and waved and made my most grateful face at them as I pulled away. I think they understood.

So, think of me the next time you are faced with an opportunity like that. I don’t know what I would have done without them, and I only hope I am a kind stranger to others whenever I have the chance. We’re on this island together; we should be able do depend on each other whenever possible.

*And, also weirdly, on Tuesday, my improv teacher shouted the infamous line “Stella!” when he was trying to get us to emote more.

** Like the Death Star?

***Student loans are also kind of like receiving kindness from strangers. Kindness that you have to pay back at a really high interest rate, but kindness nonetheless.

****I’d like to say I’ll never park there again, but who am I kidding? It’s close to where I live and I can’t always count on off-street parking.

*****Now I’m being judgmental. Sorry.

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About Sarah in Small Doses

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4 responses to “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. Dad says :

    It does make a person feel good to help someone in need . . . in a way as good or better than the person being helped. And if we all “pay it forward” there will always be plenty of good will stored up for the future crises.

  2. Michael says :

    R.I.P. James Gandolfini. I enjoyed a few episodes of The Sopranos back in the day. Keep your head up Sarah – everyone has bad days where things seem to multiply and spiral out of control. I would not recommend comparing your car to The Death Star. I recently tried very unsuccessfully to trying starting from a stop in a manual transmission vehicle on the UWEC hill no less. I had to let my passenger take over for me before we backed down the hill and into the guard rail. Had to wave a disapproving mechaninc past in his Cushman too. Humbling experiences, but things could be worse.

    • sarahwithanh25 says :

      Thanks, Michael, it’s nice to be reminded that other people face hard times, too. I hope your manual driving skills have improved and you no longer need your passenger to take over on hills. It’s scary.

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