Blanche DuBois utters the famous line in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers”. With the utmost respect for Tennessee Williams, I am revising the words to state “I continue to be uplifted by the kindness of strangers”. Wherever I go, strangers recognize me, come up to greet me, express kind words, and ask how I/we are doing? It happened to me several times this morning at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Leaders Prayer Breakfast. On Tuesday evening, I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker for Hometown Heroes. Before speaking, a well-known Pittsburgh celebrity sat down next to me prior to the evening’s festivities commencing (I have met him at prior events), put his hand on my shoulder, and asked me how I was doing. Another celebrity in attendance at this same event, when I was introduced to him and stated how thrilled I was to meet him, told me how thrilled he was to meet me and asked me how I was doing. The kindness of strangers continues to uplift me, but it has become in some ways a non-stop shiva. For those unfamiliar, the Jewish practice upon the death of a loved one is to mourn in one’s home for seven days. Family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers are welcome to arrive and offer condolences, to see to the needs of the mourner, and to help him/her cope with the loss.
Please do not misinterpret my observations. I do not chase away anyone who is so kind as to offer condolences and express support. I am so very grateful that strangers feel so moved to approach me and express their true feelings. Many times over my life I have met up with colleagues and friends who suffered the loss of a loved one, and I was unable to attend the funeral. While I offered appropriate condolences at the time of the loss, I offer in-person condolences the first time we see each other after their loss. Some might think that this continued offering of condolences to me might wear me down, forcing me to continually be a mourner. Well, I accept the fact that I am a mourner, and I am grateful for the care and concern that strangers bring to me. Their kindness offers reassurance that there is so much that is wonderful in the human race, and that the vast majority of people are good and decent.
I will continue to welcome the continuous expressions of humanity from all of the strangers that I meet every day. I do not depend upon them, but I continue to be uplifted by them, and for that I say “thank you”.