The Kindness of Strangers

In the immortal words of Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, “It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” I certainly hope this is true for you. In any case, in summertime, having fun seems to move higher up on everyone’s agenda. Work or no work, it’s time to play. Then along comes The Kindness of Strangers, asking you to write in about some unexpected generosity you’ve experienced or seen from someone you don’t know, regardless of time or place. The idea is to share such warm and hopeful moments with the rest of us, and brighten the day for everyone.

But who has time? I get it! Many people are busy hunting that special floating toy or barbecue tool, trying to remember where they put all that leftover suntan lotion, and wondering whether it’s still good or not (and while I’m at it, does anyone else miss the beachy smell of the old Coppertone?). Some folks may even be willing to confront last year’s bathing suit, not knowing whether it will be a tragedy or a triumph.

Happily, M.M. submitted a good story to start us off. This one is from way back from those ancient times when there were no cell phones (yes, children, there once was such a time). M.M.’s family has always loved to camp, so one summer evening three adults and five small children were headed from Pawling to the Adirondacks. Suddenly, the van’s axle broke. Of course, they were stranded in the middle of nowhere – the only house for miles around was a big dark one on a hill.

As M.M. tells it, “We walked to the door to ask if we could make a call. All lights go on, and we were greeted like old friends – relatives even – by an elderly couple who couldn’t have been nicer. They kept the children entertained and even served us delicious goat-milk ice cream they’d made themselves, and stored in ice cube trays in their freezer. We waited about two hours for our ride, and they made us feel welcome the whole time. The dark house turned out to be a very pretty yellow home.”

That’s a lovely family memory, no? And although many years have passed since then, M.M. still remembers it clearly. In fact, when I’ve mentioned this column idea to people, it seems like virtually everyone remembers a time when a stranger was unexpectedly kind to them. Also, this kind act was often surprisingly small, but it stays in the heart.

Here’s one more example today, which I’ll admit comes from my very own cousin. Deb S. lives in Florida, not Pawling, but her story also illustrates this column’s idea. Deb and her family were recently having breakfast at a diner when she noticed an older man eating alone. She called the waitress over and told her she wanted to pick up his check, without telling him who did it. So the waitress told the man (who was wearing a “Vietnam Veteran” baseball cap) that his meal was free, thanks to an anonymous person in the room.

The man was happily surprised and even a bit emotional, and looked around without discovering his donor. But now that I write this, I think Deb may have given the whole thing away: as her family was leaving, she stopped by the man’s table to say, “Thank you for your service.” (You know, this is always a good idea anyway, meal or not.)

Anyway, since The Kindness of Strangers is a new feature, it will probably take a minute or two to get momentum. That’s fine. And we do recognize that summertime busyness we started off with could discourage anyone from sitting down at a computer. But if you’d like to share a story, please send your acts of kindness and generosity to, and let us know if you want us to print your full name or just your initials. Thanks for your memories, and happy July!

A retired college professor, musician and avid gardener, Judith Schlesinger has published two books and is the host of “Dr. J’s Jazz Emporium” on Pawling Public Radio. Her Web site is