A Stranger’s Kindness

Edward Hopper - Nighthawks - 1942

By Judy Berman

A load of laundry and a notebook, ordinary things in our everyday lives, have a very special place in my heart.

They are reminders of times when strangers came to my rescue.

When I lived in the country, wash day was a mixed blessing. Most of the wash went out on the line.

The scent of fresh air lingered long after they were trotted inside, folded or ironed, and put away.

But, that routine changed when I moved to Syracuse, New York. My apartment had no place to wash clothes or hang them out to dry.

So, I trudged to a Laundromat about six blocks from my home. I had no choice. I didn’t have a car.

While I was going thru the mindless tasks linked to washing clothes, I was unaware of what else was happening at the Laundromat.

Another woman, her kids in tow, came up to me. She spotted a man watching me. She said he took his clothes out of the washer before the cycle was complete and threw them into a dryer. She suspected he was trying to finish the same time as me.

She asked if I’d like to walk with her to her apartment. I gratefully accepted.

I don’t remember if we shared a cup of coffee or how long we talked. All I recall is that when I left, I felt like a guardian angel sent this woman to watch over me.

I never saw her again, but I think of that day quite often.

Kindness - kitten and quote - No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted

There, no doubt, have been many kind strangers that I’ve crossed paths with. One, who I never met, entered my life during my first year of teaching.

I left the comfort of the world I knew – newspaper reporting – about a year before. When I entered my classroom, so much was foreign to me.

Oh, I had several kind mentors, fellow teachers and administrators to help me over the hurdles. But one challenge that loomed large every day was: What will my lesson be for the next 45 minutes?

That map is vital. It is the tool needed to focus on what to teach with the end in mind. What do students need to know to meet the standards and to build on for success for their next school year.

In trying to figure this out, I felt like I stumbled more than a few times.

Then, one day, I found a notebook filled with lesson plans left by the teacher who had been there the year before.

There, in a neat, white binder were the guidelines that included everything from the “welcome to the new school year” packets, class expectations and lesson plans to accompany teaching a book.

I felt like I’d entered the cave with Indiana Jones and discovered hidden treasure.

That notebook, written by Amy Gamerl, was more valuable than the richest find by any treasure-seeker. It guided me thru my first unsteady year of teaching.

I never had the opportunity to thank Amy. But I am very indebted to her.


My post was inspired by this article on Buzzfeed: “What’s the Nicest Thing a Stranger Has Ever Done for You? http://www.buzzfeed.com/h2/fbdh/windows/we-asked-people-to-share-the-nicest-thing-a-strang#.gb94MzkqNZ

Please share your experiences.


Music Video: “Try a Little Kindness” by Glen Campbell (1969) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaCBTSQZq1E  

Photo: Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting at the Art Institute of Chicago (1942) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a8/Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper_1942.jpg/640px-Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper_1942.jpg

Photo: Kindness – “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” (Aesop, author of “The Lion and the Mouse” – a Greek fable) (620 BC – 560 BC)

  1. This was such a wonderful post, Judy. Both the stories you shared–the laundromat stranger and the never-met teacher–are wonderful. I can tell how much both experiences meant to you. Laundromats have always seemed scary to me, and being a new teacher is, too.
    Hopper’s iconic painting just seems to radiate loneliness to me, and I imagine the people sitting there could use some kindness from a stranger. “Kindness of strangers” also means something to me because my younger daughter and her fiance were both in a college production of Streetcar (Blanche and Stanley)–their director is officiating at the wedding.

    1. Merril … Thank you. I liked the Edward Hopper painting because of the loneliness it expressed.

      I did think about including Blanche Dubois’ (Vivian Leigh’) quote from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” I hope your daughter and her finance wowed the audience in that play. 😉

    1. I haven’t shared that notebook, Diana, but I have shared mine as well as lesson plans for teaching a novel, CDs, etc. I still have the notebook. The teacher moved away. I contacted a fellow teacher who was a friend of hers to alert her to my post. Hope she gets to read it. 😉

  2. I am so glad this woman was perceptive and possibly saved your life, Judy. Such a wonderful and kind way of watching out for you! I also feel the notebook, with so much helpful information and her welcome to school message was such a BIG act of kindness, Judy. Glad you sent a shout out to Amy for her unforgettable contribution to your first year of teaching. This post with the Glen Campbell song, “Try a Little Kindness” was the BEST post I have read in a long time, Judy!

  3. When I was on maternity leave after my second child, a mother and grandmother of a patient of mine brought a home-cooked meal to my home. All I had to do was heat the delicious Italian meal up in the oven for dinner that night. Although as an introvert, it was awkward for me to have a patient’s family in my home, even for a short time, their kind act has stayed in my mind all these years. Such a sweet gesture.

    1. Carrie … I can certainly relate to your reaction to that sweet gesture of a home-cooked meal. I was on my own when I first moved to Syracuse. When I was sick with a cold (or the flu), the elderly woman in the apartment downstairs fixed me some chicken soup. It was an act of kindness that stays with me still.

  4. The mentors, guardian angels, and kind strangers in our lives protect us at the time and teach us to protect others in the future. Laundromats are examples in many of our lives. In college I noticed a man watching me through the front window, just staring, almost leering as he leaned against the glass and waited. An older couple noticed him, too. When I left, they left with me, and they’d called their two sons to come and walk to the bus stop with us. Years later, I remembered this kindness when a friend and I saw several guys hanging around outside a laundromat, watching a mentally challenged woman inside. We called our boyfriends for back up (I wish we could have done it alone, but we were outnumbered), and they left immediately. The woman was glad to know of another, safer laundromat that was actually nearer to her assisted living program.
    Always pay kindness forward.

    1. Marilyn … I’m so glad that you and your friends looked out for that woman. I never went back to that laundromat again. I went to one that was one closer that I hadn’t known about at the time.

  5. Those serendipitous moments, when people come into our lives to help as at just the crucial time, are truly wonderful.

    Strangely, at the moment I can’t think of any memorable kindness a stranger did for me–there were plenty of door openings, and letting me go ahead of them in line….. no, wait, now I remember.

    In a chalet at the top of the mountain in Alto Adige, in Italy, an old man eating salami and bread with olive oils and red wine, invited me and my 2 girlfriends to join him (We were 18-ish). He showed us how to drizzle the olive oil just so, how much pepper to sprinkle on, and how to dip our bread–and bought us each a glass of wine. We didn’t speak Italian and he didn’t speak English or German (the languages we understood), but somehow we communicated just fine.

  6. I loved this post, Judy! To receive kindness from a stranger is just as wonderful as returning it. There are so many opportunities in our daily activities. This is a great reminder to jump on them. 🙂

  7. You hit all the chords on the scale of kindness and insight here. I enjoyed reading the comments too all of which resonated with me, especially the laundromat escapades.

    I’ll offer two comments but on the images you chose: I remember assigning the Edward Hopper painting to a class of English Comp students as a “reflection” paper. And the Aesop quote is hanging in our master bath as a framed print done by my son Joel.

    About the treasury of lesson plans: As a “green” adjunct professor, my colleagues often dipped into their files to help me. When I retired, I paid it forward by sharing mine too.

    One more thing: Glen Campbell’s wife has been so helpful (read that “kind”) as they both journey through his decline because of Alzheimer’s disease.

    1. Marian … The Edward Hopper painting also reminds me of John P. Strelecky’s book, “The Why Cafe.” A man in a hurry is at a crossroads. His road trip takes him to the middle of nowhere. He stops at a diner and his discussions lead him to self discovery. I met the author a few yeas ago and was really impressed with this book.

      Aesop’s quote and the kitten do speak to me. I’d love to see Joel’s framed print.

      Like you, I’ve always paid it forward to my colleagues by sharing my lesson plans. They, happily, do the same. 😉

      I’d forgotten that Glen Campbell has Alzheimer’s. I’m so glad he has a caring wife by his side.

  8. Judy a guardian angel for sure and when they come its a blessing. Nothing more wonderful than a complete stranger helping a fellow human out. Beautifully written and made me smile. Thank you.

  9. I am frequently surprised by the generosity of strangers . Just when your feeling down someone you’ve never seen before smiles at you ….that speaks volumes to me .
    What a wonderful find you had …that notebook was like heaven sent .

    1. That find truly was, Cherry. 😉

      I can also to relate to the impact of a stranger’s smile. One time years ago, around Christmas, I must have been smiling as I walked in downtown Syracuse, New York. A young man smiled and wished me a good day, and then kept going. That memory still makes me smile. 😉

  10. Amy did you the big solid of the profession, Judy! Holy guacamole!! When I took on the Music Journalism adjunct spot, my first swing at teaching solo, at Le Moyne, it was their first time offering the course. I had to write the syllabus from scratch, never having done such a thing before. Oy! My first day, my plan was, introduce myself, tell what the class will entail, explain all major assignments for the 15 weeks, have the baker’s dozen students introduce themselves and say why they were taking the class, open the session for questions. It went well, I thought, and then I looked at the clock and saw that we’d covered 25 of the 50 minutes of scheduled class time. I AM SO SCREWED was the panic-stricken thought that went through my head. So I scrambled and had them all write their goals for the semester and hand it in to me. I got better in time planning after that.

    More seriously, that laundromat story is quite scary. Thank goodness our angel spotted what the evil-minded man was plotting!

    1. Mark, that scary experience you had teaching in college is why I will be forever grateful for Amy’s kindness. That was quick thinking on your part once you realized your class was only half over. 😉

      I try not to think about ‘what might have been’ at the laundromat. But I am deeply obliged to that guardian angel.

  11. I know what it’s like to trudge to the launderette, I did that for years. But I was incredibly lucky to move to a street where it was practically on my doorstep! You walked six blocks carrying washing!!! 😯 And I bet they were long blocks too? You must have built some mighty muscles while doing that!! 🙂

    Wow, that was an extremely sharp observant lady, and quite possibly saved you from harm! Not many people notice the behaviour or body language of others to that extent. I quite often notice things about people in detail and others think I’m a bit strange to see such things – until it becomes obvious what I’ve seen is actually true. I can’t remember being any other way, even when I was a child I did that. I think she was as good as a guardian angel for you Judy – if only more people were able to be like that, it would be a very different world!

    And the note book – what a perfect find for you! I have had some events like that and I know others who have too – I wonder exactly how these things happen, I’d love to see the behind the scenes arrangement! 😉

    The only one I can remember right now is a little book called Thought Of Things by Prentice Mulford that was crucial to me recovering from depression. My Dad had bought a second hand copy when he was very young, long before he got married. He gave it away to someone who he felt needed it, and a few years later, around the time I was born, a brother in law of his owned two copies of that book and gave my Dad his spare copy, saying “I know how much you loved that book, so have this one, you might need it one day.”

    I was 21 and not in a good state of physical or mental health, and out of boredom searched my Dad’s bookshelves for something ‘different’ to read, and oh wow, did I find it!!! Changed my thinking for life and lifted me out of a dark hole mentally and I’m convinced helped my body heal from other ailments affecting me at the time. The mind is a powerhouse of wonderful things – if only we can see it. Sometimes we need a little help from another. In my case the author was long dead. Such a pity I would have liked to have thanked him! 😀

    These things happen to many people – and everyone wonders how and why!

    By the way the painting you’ve chosen is one of my favourite paintings! I love that image, I should have it on a wall! 🙂

    1. It is a great painting, Suzy. You should get it. Sometimes the right book falls into your hands at the right time. I’m re-reading the “Why Cafe” by John P. Strelecky. It’s about fulfilling your Purpose for Existence (PFE). A great motivational read.
      How lucky you were to move to a place near a laundromat. Yes, they were long blocks and I do feel fortunate that the young lady – about my age at the time – was alert to what was happening.
      That notebook, too, was heaven sent. 😉

  12. A blogger friend of mine, Kelley Chikos, recently wrote and published a book for teacher newbies called: Trickle Down Teaching: A Lighthearted Romp Through the Mine Field of Your Rookie Year. She wrote it as a guide to teachers just starting out, just as you once were! It’s a humorous and informative read. Even as a veteran teacher, you might enjoy it. 🙂

  13. Hi Judy, lovely post. I think during the months my daughter was in ICU, I was exposed to so many random acts of kindness by strangers that I am forever changed. I learned what a huge difference one small gesture can make to another person.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Barbara. In our passing, we often don’t realize the imprints we’ve made. But, sometimes, that exchange lifts both the giver and the receiver. 😉

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