The Kindness of Strangers

Castaway business man.jpgMy husband is about to go on sabbatical.  This is one of the perks of his profession, a chance to study and think for months every so many years.  He’s done some wonderful things; we’ve done some wonderful things together, but I’ve always written while we’ve been away.  There are no sabbaticals for writers.  We call that being unemployed.

Years ago we had the opportunity to go to Australia and New Zealand for six months on our very first sabbatical as a family.  We packed up all four children, ranging from four to fourteen, and off we went.  There were no “laptops.”  We shipped a Radio Shack Model II computer in the luggage compartment of the airliner.  I remember watching from a foreign port as it was loaded on a conveyer belt and dropped from on high into the hold.  Chalk up one for Radio Shack. Not only did it survive, I wrote a book on that computer while we were away.  A little book, true, but a book nonetheless.

Ten years later we went to Australia again, and that time we took a real laptop.  Two days into the trip the computer died.  Try getting a US computer fixed in Australia.  Try buying a new computer in Australia that will work once you get it home.

I had a book to write.  I pulled out my yellow legal pad and dug in.

And that’s when the kindness of strangers came into play.  Adelaide, Australia, where we were living, had a romance writers group.  They asked me to speak, and I was happy to do it.  These were truly lovely women.  I’ve never met nicer.  The next morning, though, I woke up to a phone call. As an icebreaker I’d told the group my computer story, and a member who heard it or heard about it had cleaned up her laptop for me to use.  She didn’t know me.  Now I’m not even sure she was at the meeting.  But she dropped off her laptop that afternoon.  She told me just to give it back before we left.  I wrote a book on it.  A little book, true, but a book nonetheless.

Ask yourself how many times strangers, people you’ve never met and will never meet again, have come to your rescue.  It’s astonishing, isn’t it?  You may need more than your fingers and toes to count them all.  That one stands out for me.  What a sweet memory it is.

This time, we aren’t going to Australia, and we aren’t hauling children.  We’re starting in Chautauqua, New York, and today I typed “the end” on the book that will be due at the end of September.  Instead of writing steadily I’ll spend this first month of my husband’s sabbatical making changes at my leisure, blogging, answering email and thinking about my next novel.  But if something goes wrong, do I want to depend on the kindness of strangers?  Nope, I’ve taken precautions.  The book is on my laptop.  It’s also on a flash drive.  In addition I’ve emailed it to myself in its entirety and put it on my eReader.  As my final piece of insurance, I’ve bought a netbook, just in case my laptop succumbs, as laptops seem prone to do.

Do I still trust in the kindness of strangers?   Absolutely. My faith is strong.  Need proof? 

I still haven’t learned to change a flat tire.


  1. debbie Haupt on July 29, 2009 at 9:17 am

    How true you are Emilie, I remember when I had just learned to drive (a 58 Chevy Impala, stick shift) and it was my first time out alone. I came to a stop sign on a hill no less and couldn’t get the stupid car to go without killing the engine or worse rolling into the person behind me. I was crying, and the man behind me got out of his car and said that he had just taught his daughter to drive the exact same make and model as mine and it was okay to just back into him if I had to, to get going. He let me hit him two times before I got that stupid car through the stop sign and he just waved and smiled at me later. I never had trouble at a stop sign again and I’ll never forget his kindness. I’m sure there are other examples in my life but that one remains in the forefront.
    BTW I finally picked up a copy of Happiness Key, thanks for the coupon and I’ll get to it this weekend. Can’t Wait !!!

  2. Sofia O'Moore on July 29, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Have a lovely & productive sabbatical and may the Great Goddess Computa watch over all your gear (I had a figurine of her a decade ago, not sure where it went now).
    I wrote the last words of my first draft yesterday at 10:51pm. Trying to get my first edit done in the next few days then handing it off to trusted friends to give me their honest opinions (and catch my most glaring grammatical gaffes). My husband got so absorbed in it after reading a section he requested to see after I mentioned it (your husband’s former church building makes a cameo appearance, that’s what my hubby wanted to read). Instead of just the few paragraphs he was curious about, he wound up reading the last 15-20% of the novel and is now pestering me that he wants to read the whole thing (which I won’t let anyone do until *I* get through reading it and editing it once myeslf). Hopefully a good sign, he’s generally not one to get sucked into fiction that way and he was getting the emotional responses I was aiming for even though he’s heard me prattle on about this story line for years while I was world-building (hopefully the future novels I have planned in the same universe won’t take me nearly as long to get around to writing – I think I’ve got the knack of it now).
    As for kindness of strangers, it’s kinda a funny issue for me. I’m physically handicapped, mobility impaired. I’ve had several instances in my life where I’d be wheeling myself around in a wheelchair and a stranger would step in, trying to be kind, and start pushing my chair up a ramp or something. Problem is, often my fingers/thumbs were still gripping the wheel handle section, which has spokes every so many inches. One time someone nearly broke my thumb in their rush to be kind. Kindness is not always considerate. I value the impulse behind the act, I just wish there was a little more thought ahead of it. Though it’s nice when the world is behaving in such a way for a day that someone’s first impulse is to help someone they perceive to be in need (even if that person doesn’t necessarily think they’re in need – sometimes we lie to ourselves and the offer of help is really what we need).
    I’m rambling.
    Anyway, I try to spread joy in the world whenever I get the opportunity. Today at the grocery store there was a guy who let me know what a good deal milk was. I commented on how many he was buying and he said he had three kids at home, single dad, mom so unreliable that the kids don’t even bother to get their stuff ready ahead of time if she makes plans for them. I pointed out how lucky his kids and their friends were to have a caring role model like him in their lives, since in most cases it’s single moms, so boys don’t get the chance to see themselves as equally capable potential parents. The look on his face and body language told me that really meant a lot to him to hear (probably especially as his kids – I think he said ages 7-13 – aren’t really at the age where they’re likely to verbalize such appreciation frequently). He smiled at me each time he passed me in the store after that and waved when I passed him as I was leaving when he was in another lane checking out.
    Sometimes the biggest help I’ve gotten from someone, even with my myriad health challenges, has been a personal, kind word or conversation when I was feeling a bit down. I hope I was able to pay that forward a bit today. I think your books sound like they do that for others, giving them a little different perspective that may just be what they need at that moment in their lives. Such a blessing that life has allowed you to give others that. It’s a ministry of its own.

  3. Susan W on July 31, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Good afternoon Emilie! Thank you for including me on your mailing of your summer newsletter. Today I’m using the coupon to purchase Happiness Key. I won’t get to read your book until after August 31st; I’m trying to finish piecing and quilting a raffle quilt for the Titusville Oil 150 festival at the end of August.Once this quilt is completed, I can do other things again(Like read a good book!or take a long bike ride).
    Reading my devotions this morning and reading your blog made me feel they were intertwined. The Good Samaritian and your friend who lent you a computer were cut from the same cloth. Thanks for sharing! Thanks also to Sophie & Debbie for their words about random acts of kindness from strangers. Yesterday at the grocery store a strange passed on her buggy to me; each buggy has a “deposit” of 25 cents until the cart is returned to the corral. The cart was passed onto to her, to me and to the next woman. I wonder how long and how many people where touched by the one person’s 25 cent gift? Hope the sabbatical is productive and relaxing. It’s a true treasure and gem to enjoy. Safe travels to you and yours!

  4. Emilie Richards on August 1, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Thanks to all for your insights and personal kindness stories. Susan, nice to see my longarm buddy here.

  5. Janice on August 4, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Happiness to me is enjoying all of God’s creations and being the Kindness to a stranger. It is such a pleasure in my life to look for ways to help people. I don’t do it for any reason other than for the happiness it brings me and hopefully others.

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