The Kindness of Strangers

16 Mar

by Andrea Kelton

“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”   Blanche DuBois

Others climb mountains for adventure.  Me?  I shuffle to work after a 19 inch day-long Chicago blizzard.  I left my apartment and started the short distance to Damen and Ainslie.  The sidewalk had been cleared but the city snow plows left an enormous ice encrusted mountain at the crosswalks.  I was trapped.  If I could just cross Damen, I could catch the bus.  I sized up the iceberg to determine if I might be able to sit on the mound and slide down the other side, when a motorist left his car, offered me his outstretched hands and guided me over the mountain.  Then he helped me cross the street.  I rode the bus two blocks south to the Brown Line where generous commuters assisted me over more mountains.  I thanked these folks with heartfelt gratitude.  Today I appreciate the kindness of strangers.  But 20 years ago, I had a different attitude.

I’d spent Christmas, 1996, with Dave’s son in Florida.  My train home left Tampa on New Year’s Eve and stopped in Washington, D.C. four hours before my Chicago bound train departed.  I decided to explore the train station and find a bite to eat.

Soup sounded good.  I found a cafeteria.  Oh, no!  The menu was on the back wall like a fast food restaurant.  Emotion flooded my body and clouded my mind.  I couldn’t read the menu.  My vision loss was in another transition back then.  I didn’t use a cane, but I couldn’t see well enough to read the menu.   A therapist had told me that all I had to do was tell people that I don’t see well, and then ask for help.  I found this frightening and nearly impossible.

Finally, my rumbling tummy convinced me to ask someone in line if soup was on the menu.  I asked the counter server what kind of soup they had and endured her eye roll as she barked out the choices.

After I ate the soup, I searched out coffee.  More self-serve.  I couldn’t figure out the elaborate urn.  I was bent over the dispenser when a male voice asked, “Do you see as poorly as I do?”

I sprung up to face a guy who made my heart pitter patter.  He showed me the lever while we made small talk.  He was on his way to work.  I asked where and he grinned, “New York. I drive the 198 for Amtrak.”  Turning red, I blurted out, “You can see just fine!” Then I bolted.

I found a deserted corner in that magnificent station.  Hidden behind huge columns, I burst into tears.  Tears of anger, fear and shame.  A cute guy and all he notices is my poor eyesight; that I’m damaged!  I cried long and hard until I realized I was having a major meltdown and nobody noticed.  I stopped crying and started laughing—at myself.

I sipped my cold coffee and examined my thoughts.  Before now, I’d thought I’d been handling my vision loss well.  This emotional flash flood ambush let me know I’d been fooling myself.  I still believed that I was supposed to be independent and self-sufficient.  If I needed the kindness of strangers, then I was as pathetic and tragic as Blanche DuBois.  And I refused to be tragic.

I’d have to do some heavy thinking later.  But today was a holiday. In fact, it was New Year’s Day.  I resolved to heal this wound.  I might even ask for help.

Andrea Kelton was diagnosed with uveitis in 1974.  Today she lives in Chicago and teaches Adult Basic Education at Literacy Chicago.  She attends a weekly memoir writing class, “Me, Myself and I” taught by author Beth Finke.  We will be sharing a small collection of Andrea’s reflective stories.  Enjoy!

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One Response to “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. Jeff Flodin March 21, 2015 at 8:49 AM #

    Thank you, Stella, for bringing more of Andrea’s honest, authentic and heartfelt writing for our enjoyment. And thank you, Andrea for those qualities in yourself and in your writing.

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