Kindness all around us

Serendipity

So there I was last week, paused at the end of the row where my seat was at the Civic Center in Des Moines. It was about three minutes before curtain, and all the seats were occupied between me and my seat. Although there was plenty of room for me to slide in front of those already seated, as I paused I wasn’t quite secure in getting all the way to my seat in the middle of the row.

Seeing no option, I stepped into the row, amazed that the very first lady seated on the edge of that row held up her hand, her elbow on the arm rest, so I could steady myself in case I needed it.

As I glanced ahead down the row toward my seat, almost everyone had a hand in the same position. I gratefully used the support that was offered and arrived at my seat in the huge theater safely in time to get settled before the curtain went up on “Hello, Dolly” not more than two minutes later.

Now, realistically, many of those big city strangers were of the age who probably had experience navigating unfamiliar places when their footing was unsure. They understood, so that’s why they extended a helping hand. It was a simple gesture, but it all made a difference to me.

I prefer to think that these strangers were just exhibiting that hard-to-define quality known as Iowa Nice. And it really didn’t matter at all whether they’re from the city, a small town, or the country.

I’ve heard numerous tales about neighbor helping neighbor throughout this wicked winter we’ve all endured. That topic came up in a group I was in recently as one woman declared “You wouldn’t see that happening in a city!” as others there — all country folks — nodded in agreement.

Before I could say anything, another woman spoke up to disagree. “That’s not true,” she said. “In a city, people have connections with others, too. They are there for each other.”

It’s too easy for us to believe that out here in the countryside we have a corner on kindness like nowhere else. They are the distant, detached people we hear about on the evening news, who live in little boxes and brush by each other without seeing or caring. We are the down-home, aw-shucks good guys who would do almost anything to help others who are struck with trouble or illness.

Sadly, I first realized this when my brother, who lived in Chicago for a dozen years, became ill more than thirty years ago. As he lingered in the hospital for six weeks before he passed away at age 33, all kinds of his friends stepped up for my family in thoughtful, caring ways that showed that they cared very much. Those friends became family.

And through it all, I learned a very difficult but very valuable lesson: Kindness, compassion, decency and strength do not end where freeways and skyscrapers begin.

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