August 27, 2014

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Kindness the world over PDF Print E-mail

By Freida Marie Crump
The Coonridge Digest
Greetings from the Ridge.
If you don’t have indigestion when you wake up in the morning, one good dose of the world news will be enough to make your gut start to cramp. Missing jetliners, Russian land-grabbers, school shootings, meth labs, and global climate change are enough to ruin anyone’s morning toast and coffee. Last week I watched a wonderful actress perform in a play and when I went to congratulate her after the show she said, “It’s wonderful. For two hours a night I don’t have to worry about what’s happening the world.”
But despite all this turmoil, the strangest thing keeps occurring over and over. I was reminded of this weird phenomenon this week when I read a book by a young man who’d ridden his bicycle across the United States. He began in New York as a cynical young dude wanting to get away from the cares of the world, and he ended up in California with a whole different outlook on his country. He said, “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Every place I went, people were not only gracious, but in most cases they wanted to take me in.” He went on and on about the countless families who asked him to spend the night, the park custodians who brought him water and extra clothing, and the cornucopia of meals he tasted as he peddled his way across the country. He said, “I was worrying about losing too much weight and dehydration. After a week I was afraid that I’d be fed so much that I wouldn’t be able to complete the trip.”
We once had a tour guide from Spain who told me, “You know, no one beats up on you Americans like you do on yourselves.” She said that because of her job leading tourists across Europe she had an advantage in that she not only read the world news, but she spent her life meeting and getting to know folks from every corner of the world. “No one tops the Americans when it comes to simple kindness,” she said. “Most travelers end up being very nice acquaintances. When I put a group of Americans on a plane back to their homeland I’m usually saying goodbye to friends.”
And I’m inclined to think that his milk of human kindness is not reserved for those of us wearing the red, white and blue. I was once trying to guide a group of Americans through Moscow and was looking desperately for the Moskovky Metropoliten, the entry to the subway system. As I stood there trying to read a Russian map and looking more stupid than usual, an elderly Muscovite lady grabbed my arm. She looked too small to be a mugger and too old for a pickpocket. She swung me around, looked me in the eye and said, “Poteryanni?” I stood stupefied and came up with the clever response, “Huh?” “Poteryanni?” she asked. Someone in our group had come across the word earlier in the day and whispered that she was asking if we were lost. I nodded my head in Russian, then pointed to the subway symbol on my wrinkled map. This little gal didn’t hesitate a moment. She grabbed my elbow and we were off, ducking and dodging our way across Red Square . . . a heavily-scarfed little Russian lady dragging me through the hordes of locals and tourists with my tour group trying desperately to keep my St. Louis Cardinals sweatshirt in their sites. Ten frantic minutes later I found myself standing at the entrance to the subway, making a mental note to inform the U.S. State Department that if the Olympics ever create an event called Little Old Lady Sprinting, vote against it. The Russians will clobber us.
Anyone who has traveled much, whether across this wide nation or around the world will attest to the fact that the headlines simply do not tell the whole story. In fact, when it comes to hospitality and a desire to get along, they don’t even tell the right story. Generations of travelers have filled their journals with heart-warming tales of being helped, guided, fed, led and otherwise aided by strangers. I don’t begrudge the media for telling it like it is, but I’d be nice to have an occasional story about what’s normal. I guess when simple human kindness becomes news then we’re in trouble.
I was struggling through the menu at a Parisian restaurant when a well-dressed man at the next table saw my worried look. He got up, came over to our table, and translated the whole blooming thing for us. When I thanked him he said, “Is fine. You are people. I am people. We are all just people, okay?” Oui, Pierre.
You ever in Coonridge, stop by. We may not answer the door but you'll enjoy the trip.