Friday, September 02, 2005

The kindness of strangers

Maybe people were always this amazing and nice, but I never saw it until I had a child and could truly appreciate every single little thing people do for me. Kinda like sleep. I loved sleeping B.D. (before Davis) but now I know what a gift it is for my husband to allow me to sleep an hour later in the morning. Maybe it’s having a child that inspires other people to take care of you--I don’t know. All I know is that random people have been doing the nicest things for us since Davis came along.

Like today. I opened an anonymous letter postmarked Pittsburgh, PA to find a $100 gift card to Wal-Mart inside. What? I am a woman who swears in traffic, occasionally even in front of her child. How did I come to deserve this gift? Back in May, I got a similar one for Mother’s day: just a sweet short note in handwriting I don’t recognize, saying happy Mother’s day and a huge gift card to my favorite grocery store. What gives?

And then there are the intangible, non-monetary kindnesses, which make me well up when I think of them. Some of them are small--the woman at Wal-Mart who offered to put my cart away as soon as I’d loaded my son in the car, the friend who brought us a salad so we wouldn’t have to worry about lunch, the slouching, narrow-eyed, too-cool-for-school college kid who made a face at Davis just to make him laugh. Others seem bigger, or at least more unexpected: I remember going down to our laundry room, panicked because our neighbor, with whom we share the washer and dryer, was trying to do laundry and I knew a load of diapers was still sitting in the dryer. Except it wasn’t there. My salty old confirmed-bachelor neighbor had folded every single thing and stacked it neatly on top of the dryer. I ask you!

And say what you will about organized religion; the people at my church have taken us on as a family. Literally. I feel like their project, only with less of a Jerry’s kids kind of vibe. One woman called me and told me God had told her when she woke up that morning that we needed a night out and she was to babysit. Not being ones to stand in the way of the commandings of the Lord, we accepted. Another church member invited Davis to “a party at her house” and politely explained that we were not invited--we were to do something on our own, as this party was for babies only. Never mind that my son was the only baby there…

My church family has been spoiling us since I got pregnant, though--there were baby showers and heartbreakingly sweet gifts, like a sampler that took months to complete or the book of inspirational quotes on parenting that the whole church helped put together. And there of course was the whole spate of nice deeds that folks did right after Davis was born--friends visited us at the hospital, the women at my husband’s church made food and arrived en force to stock our freezer, and people brought gifts by at all hours of the day. A friend even loaned us cloth diapers to try out and made two slings for me to haul around my bouncing baby boy.

But there is something about having a baby who’s no longer a newborn--say five, six or seven months--that makes the friend who randomly brings Chinese food over or the person who offers free babysitting “so you can do something that’s not work” incredibly touching and nice. It's like finding your long-lost favorite lipstick in last year's winter coat. Yes, every time I think this being-a-mother thing is too much for me, it’s like God reaches out through my fellow human beings and gives me a noodge, as if to say “Lighten up, kid. I’ve been doing this mothering gig longer than you have. I’ve gotcha covered.”

I’ve been thinking so much about these random kindnesses especially in light of the Katrina aftermath in New Orleans. With so much craziness, greed and desperation going on there, it’s easy to think that’s what our fellow humans are all about. But then I think of these fingers of light that have been piercing the clouds in my own life lo, these many months, and I know that the flood of good deeds and kindness and love that’s pouring South right now will make even these raging floodwaters look like a kiddie pool.