The Kindness of Strangers

I found an odd looking lump on my thigh once, and was on my way to have it looked at. Not normally a fanatic about these things, I was unusually worried about this one.

As I drove myself, alone to the doctors, I kept thinking that it could be malignant and what on earth would that mean to me. To keep these unhelpful thoughts at bay and get my mind off the subject, I switched on the radio. Of all things to be on that time, that day and that channel, there was a Christian program on with a noted Christian American Pastor. This was a man had recently had to deal with his own mortality in the form of a serious cancer, but was currently in remission and talked of his pain, his struggles and what life held for him.

Listening intently, I started to think of my own small worry and how there are always so many other people who face uncertainty, tragedy and times of trial and realised that this was one of those times where there is always someone worse off than yourself. I should have been giving thanks for what I already had in my life and trusted in God’s plan. Worry means we are not giving ourselves to Him. We are not trusting Him to look after us, and are constantly snatching back the reins like a small child, saying, ‘I can do it myself!’

Two minutes further up the road, I picked up a very weary looking older man carrying a petrol can, who obviously needed a ride somewhere. As the cancer program still played softly in the background, the man asked me where I was headed that day.

Not normally given to discuss personal details with strangers, I was surprised to find myself telling him about the lump on my leg. He was quiet for a moment, and looked out of his window and I thought perhaps he had not heard or that he didn’t care. Then, he quietly shared the news that his wife that had been diagnosed with a breast lump two days before which doctors thought may well be breast cancer.

All thoughts of my own strange lump forgotten, I found myself telling him about recent improvements in the care of breast cancers, knowing deep down what in truth they may be facing. It was his expression though, which told of quiet acceptance for his lot in life which brought me to a humbled state of grace and brought tears to my eyes. I gave the man – a perfect stranger, a small but watery smile for him – this man, a wonderful stranger. I prayed for him silently for the remainder of the trip to the petrol station, and when I later dropped him back to his car with a full can of petrol, I squeezed his hand and said I would pray for him and his wife and he said he would pray for me.

There are no answers for why things happen the way that they do, and there is no simple remedy either for someone else’s grief yet the gifts we give each other are simply listening and being there for them in kind. We cannot know, any of us, what God might do because we care and we do it because we try our best to feel empathy when it’s needed and to pray and care for people – all people.

I realised that day after meeting with the stranger that the tapestry of all our lives as a human race is woven in such complicated and beautiful pattern that certain parts of the pattern must cease, no matter how beautiful, before others can begin. And without certain tiny pieces the tapestry as a whole is not complete. God weaves our lies around a goal that we do not know or see, and things happen that need to happen. We can only comfort those who grieve, and cannot afford to take anything for granted – not our children, friends, strangers or the simple ability to appreciate what we do have, and most of all to have the Grace to give thanks.

More importantly, if a stranger can be kind, then how much kinder should we be to our families and those who know us.  Treat your family and friends like foreign visitors or perhaps like Jesus – the stranger on the road.

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