The Kindness of Strangers

Sometime ago now when I was but a lad growing up in Tampa, Florida I had two very cognizant moments in my life that taught me the depths of human compassion as well as that the opportunity to do the right thing often occurs while no one is looking (or so you think).

It was a hot and sticky summer that year in Tampa, the kind that you get accustomed to while sharing a pool with someone. Every week I received $5 for my allowance to spend however I chose in return for doing chores such as cleaning my room and keeping the bathroom clean. Usually I spent the money immediately on video game rentals that cost exactly $5.50 from the video club. My dad would often spot me the $ .50. And usually I and my good friend Nicko would take turns spending the night over one another’s home. However these past couple of weeks I had been saving my money up to buy a book. Even at that young age I was enchanted by history and current events and hoped to further my understanding of the subjects. However once I found out that the book could be rented by me at the local library I decided to save my money and do that instead. It was third grade and I can still remember the subject (the U.S. Civil War), even though I’ve forgotten the title or author.

With all this money saved up I needed a place to put it I couldn’t trust anywhere in my room since the bogeyman might take it, or my older brother might “borrow” it. The answer was clear I would give it to my Dad for safe keeping.

Eventually with some of my money I purchased a wallet. This was my first wallet, and with the amount of money I had on our trip to T.J. Maxx one day leather was out of the question. But leather wasn’t even needed or desired. Instead what I saw as a fitting wallet was a black nylon wallet with orange stitching and Velcro insides. It was the right price too and so I approached the cash register making my largest purchase to date. I cherished that wallet like it was the world, opening and closing it just so I could hear that sweet Velcro sound which to me said “money”.

Along the same time the movie for a video game called Mortal Kombat came out and Nicko and I were hell bent on seeing it. It wasn’t without precedent usually after church my Dad, or Nicko’s Dad would take us to see a movie before we would usually go to Morrison’s a restaurant. My dad took us to see the movie on this particular Sunday. My dad was complaining to me on the trip there, because I kept opening and closing my wallet so I could hear it talk to me, you know the one with the orange nylon stripes and the sweet Velcro opening.  He warned me that if I kept doing that one day I was going to forget it somewhere. I didn’t want to hear that since I had all of $15 dollars inside; enough for a movie and video game! After the movie was over we headed out of the theatre and as I walked through the lobby of the theatre, while walking out of the movie theatre a middle aged blonde woman noticed that I’d dropped my wallet, the one with Velcro and orange neon stripes, you know, my first wallet. When she tapped my shoulder I didn’t know what to expect. She goes you dropped this and handed me my Velcro wallet. I immediately thanked her and started to cry I don’t know what it was but that act of kindness left an indelible mark on my psyche that still exist to this day. I think she knew as she walked away that she taught me compassion, kindness, trustworthiness, and most of all that neon orange is a really easy color to see.

The other moment of true virtue in my adolescence came some time later when I was a teenager. I was walking through Disney world during the summer. It must have been late because the sun was almost completely down. I was tired and just wanted to go home I reached in my pocket to retrieve my watch that had a broken strap, so I could know what time it is. And as I reached in I must have pulled some money out with it because not 30 seconds later I see a little boy with his family come running up to me to give me some money they found on the ground. I was smitten because I had no idea that I was even missing any money. I tried to reward the young boy who must have been no older than six at the time, but he refused. His mother explained that he just wanted to do the right thing. I found it heartwarming and a moment of true reflection for me. I don’t know if he knew this at the time but he taught me that kindness is universal, values start young, and $10 souvenir cups are not enough to dissuade some people from compromising their integrity.

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