Monday, October 6, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

I'm still a little shaky this week. It got me in the knees even though I had prepared myself to see her in the ICU, hooked up to IVs and on a respirator. My mother's face was battered from the car crash, her neck swollen, her throat punctured with a tracheotomy tube. I spent mornings with her, standing by her bed, cheering her on. And when she was awake, I told her over and over again what had happened--the crash in the parking lot, the operations in the hospital over the last 2 weeks, the pneumonia, her brave fight.

When I could eat, I went to a Thai restaurant, not far from my parents' house. The young Thai waiter brought me Tom Yom soup and a pot of jasmine tea. Its warmth soothed me. I drank it all. And when I was finished, he talked to me, asking me why I was in Florida and I told him about my mother. He listened, nodding, his dark eyes fixed on me. And later, when he brought me the bill, he told me my meal was for free because of my troubles. Tears filled my eyes. When I protested, he smiled and said, "You'll come back." And I did. We talked again. He told me about his sorrow, that he couldn't afford to go back to Thailand for a visit, about his life here in the USA, and how he had to hide the fact that he was gay from his family. "And I can do nothing about it," he said with a shrug. I touched his shoulder, moved by his sadness. I too understood his pain of not fitting in, and withholding thoughts, feelings, and pieces of myself from family as a way of protecting myself.

On the last day, he gave me a meditation site on the web and told me it would help bring me peace. I thanked him and promised to come back in 2 weeks on my next visit. As I left the restaurant and for days afterward, I've thought about how these chance meetings, these gestures of kindness from strangers are so sweet and such a gift. They reinforce my belief of the inherent goodness of people.

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