Tag Archives: the kindness of strangers

Lessons Learned While Lost

When James and I were in Atlanta in May, we ran into a homeless woman. We were pacing back and forth along Peachtree Street, scanning the storefronts for the Marta station sign. We doubled back two or three times before she saw us, heads ducked over a phone screen, trying to navigate our way.

She asked if she could help us find something. And then we were off, her and I chatting away up front, James trailing behind, slinging out water bottles and necessities in a bag on his back. She asked me where we were from, how we ended up coming to Atlanta. She told me about his bright blue eyes and smiled.

We were just steps from the escalators leading down when she shared her own story—how she’d lost her apartment two months ago, how she was trying to stay positive and how her son was embarrassed about her persistence, but could we spare some money for her breakfast?

I didn’t have any cash—we were going hiking—so I apologized. She looked me in the eyes, asking if I’d buy something, if I could just get her a bagel or something to tide her over, so of course I said yes.

When we left, down a second escalator, her arms full with a hot breakfast of grits and eggs and meat, I felt good. James, though, wasn’t sure about her.

Where we live, the streets are stocked with homeless people. My father-in-law swore once he knew one of the men, that he went home each night, changed out of the ragged clothes, and slept in a warm bed with his family.

The whole ride down the escalator, onto the platform, into the train car, on the tracks, I told him it didn’t matter, really, but of course she was homeless. She asked for breakfast, for God’s sake. She would’ve moved on if I didn’t have cash.

She had so much warmth about her, a wide smile, a genuine tone. I was happy to help her. I was happy to believe that something good had come from that morning.

“Two months,” I told him. “That’s not long enough to have found a whole new job and gotten back on your feet. She needs all the strength and energy she can get and that breakfast could be what she needs to get herself up—mentally and physically—so she can get a job. My kindness might have meant the world to her today.”

He’s still not convinced, but for me, it felt so good. Because when you’re standing in front of the world, telling your story, afraid to admit that it might not be going as planned, it takes all kinds of courage to ask for help. And when you’re standing on the other side of that conversation, looking into the eyes of a stranger with a kind heart, it shakes you. It stays with you.

The problem of poverty becomes real. It becomes a woman in a white tee shirt with black sneakers. It becomes her fast clip and warm smile and appreciation over and over as you pay for her meal. It becomes the itch inside you when you wonder how she’s going to make it through tomorrow, when her stomach starts to empty and she’s not having any luck finding a job and she’s hoping someone might give her a chance.

It’s hard to ignore. It’s something we shouldn’t ignore.

My Lights Are On For You

Last month, I thought about turning the lights out on this story of mine. Every book has an ending, right?

I didn’t know if I wanted to reach that end or if I could sit down and write it out of me and feel satisfied. I didn’t know if anyone would notice if the next week and the week after that and six months from now, my fingers weren’t poised over this laptop keyboard telling you something you already had humming inside your eardrums.

The truth is, I had forgotten myself. Forgotten that I kicked depression aside and sat in my childhood bedroom and tried to piece together a blog post about falling in love at eighteen and the pain that comes with that. The starvation and sunken stomachs and aching limbs and itchy eyes that comes with letting go.

I was sure goodbye was not the best word in the world, but wanted to remind myself that even though I hadn’t quite nailed it down, my sister’s best friend and her boyfriend could. So I wrote a post for them.

But last month, after a combination of conversations whirled into my Sunday morning and afternoon and evening, I wasn’t sure if I could hit the Publish button on Monday morning.

Mostly, I thought it’d be easier to not tell you I was mad lonely, to skirt around the fact that the place in my apartment I knew best was my bedroom floor, or that I had sat in my walk-in closet and tried to find one thing that still held the old me. A pair of shoes or a summer sundress.

I couldn’t. Even my wardrobe had changed.

And I didn’t want to tell you that, because I knew, deep down, about those of you who never typed an email or a Facebook message to me.

Yesterday, I got two emails from girls I’ve never met. About this blog and HUGstronger. About their hurts and pains and the hope my words have given them.

And I remembered why I was so glad to have pushed through this past month. Why we write our pain and people forgive us over and over. Because, if there is one lesson that will put empathy into your hands and never let you empty them, it is this: we all struggle with something. Admitting that something doesn’t just take a ton of bricks off your chest—it unloads the weight of someone else dabbling in the same heartache.

So tell me, please, what bricks are suffocating. Tell me, please, what weights you need lifted.

For most of my life, I have been a quiet listener. It is a job that rouses me out of sweet dreams at three a.m. A job that does not let you apologize. A job that is sweet and sad and altogether wonderful. Because I love connecting and reminding people that you’re not the only person whose thoughts are littered with pain.

You aren’t. Oh, I promise you. You are not.

Note: My email is kaleighsomers@gmail.com. If you ever, you know, need a friend to listen.