The Kindness of Strangers
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“The Kindness of Strangers,” New Era, Feb. 1998, 49

The Kindness of Strangers

These people frightened me until I looked past one man’s face and into his heart.

For days I had looked forward to my chance to work with the homeless in my city. But that cold Saturday morning it was not easy to feel charitable when I wished I could be back in my warm, comfortable bed. However, I was already committed.

As we arrived at our destination, despite the cold, many were already waiting for the kitchen to open. It was very quiet, and most of the people looked gloomy. There was not one smile or spark in anyone’s eyes, and their dark expressions matched the room they waited in.

I was frightened and decided that I didn’t want to work directly with them. Anyway, what would I say to them? How would I act around them? I didn’t want to make any of them angry with me. Was I supposed to give them pity or treat them like one of my buddies? Yes, it would definitely be easier to just stay away.

As these thoughts went through my head, we were led into a serving area with walls painted yellow, and pictures of rainbows and flowers placed strategically around the room. The brighter room calmed some of my nerves. Perhaps the sunshine and rainbows would subdue the “dangerous” ones.

While I was busy trying to conjure up more pleasant thoughts, the day’s jobs had been announced and I was left as the dishwasher. At least I would not have to interact much with them.

Soon, people began to filter in. Some knew each other, and others looked lost. I was amazed to see how different they all looked. There were even some who I would never have guessed were homeless.

There wasn’t much work for me at first, so I watched the other youth interact with the homeless. The longer I watched, the less scary these people looked to me. Those faces now began to lighten up. Smiles were everywhere, as was the sound of lively chatter. Soon, those who finished eating came and dropped their dishes in front of me. I smiled and tried to look cheerful. Some smiled back. I began to feel a lot better about these people. Maybe they weren’t so bad after all.

Suddenly, it was rush hour. I could barely keep up with the continuous flow of dishes, and my smile soon turned into a grimace and a plea for help. No one seemed to understand what I needed except one man.

Instead of walking off like everyone else, he cleaned off his plate and began to work on the mountain of dirty dishes. He was cheerful and made all those who passed him smile. He talked to me and made my work more enjoyable. This man had few material possessions, but he had a heart and compassion. His dirty appearance did not resemble his character at all. When we were finished, he told my supervisor what a good job I had done. Before I could say a word, he was gone.

In the car on the way home, I could not stop thinking of that kind man. Despite his circumstances he could still be cheerful and help others in need. I wished I could have told him how grateful I was for the example that he set for me.

Illustrated by Robert Barrett