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Learning to Walk (Through Life), Monday, November 7, 2022

November 7, 2022

Someone whose blog or social media posts I follow, some wise person, recently wrote about Tennessee Williams’ line, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”, in A Streetcar Named Desire, saying something to the effect that it is a shame this line was spoken by a character, Blanche DuBois, who was incapable of managing life at all and thus the line has a negative connotation. I am sorry I cannot remember whose post I was reading that got me thinking about this, and cannot give them credit. My deepest apologies to you, whoever you may be.

The truth is, we all depend on the kindness of strangers. If strangers were not kind to each other, didn’t help each other out, this world would be a much harder, more unpleasant, downright miserable place to be. Much more so than it currently is. This truth is one of the things that has become more evident to me as I undertook this solo adventure to walk across large swathes of France and Spain over the last two and half months. Along the way, strangers have interpreted for me, helped me find doctors and medical care, given me directions, said, “Bon, courage!”, when the day was getting long and the path was challenging and I seemed to be moving painfully, or painfully slowly. Strangers have gotten me ice and ice packs for my feet and ankle; stopped, unbidden, to make sure I knew I had missed a turn and was not at all on the path, stopped to help me figure out which way the path went when the markings weren’t clear; strangers have welcomed me into their homes turned into gites (pilgrim accommodations in France) and fed me multi-course, home-cooked French meals. The lovely couple who own the Air Bnb I am in left me a brand new ice pack and even left crutches should I need them. They brought my friend Amanda and I small gifts to take with us, and have checked to make sure I was okay over this week. Strangers have smiled and said Bon Chemin/Buen Camino over and over and over again. I’m not sure pilgrims would make it very far without the support and help of strangers. We depend upon their kindness.

Several weeks ago, I was talking with someone, a stranger who either was sharing my table or staying in the same gite, about NYC. They were talking about how very helpful they found New Yorkers, commenting on how the stereotype of rude New Yorkers is undeserved. They said whenever they needed help or directions in the city, New Yorkers always stopped to help them. If they had their map out, someone would always stop and ask if they needed help finding something. I agreed that I had found the same thing in all my years of living in the city. New Yorkers may not always look you in the eye, smile or say hello, but if you needed something or were in trouble they were right there to help you.

When I fell and sprained my ankle I had to deal with it on my own since I was not traveling with anyone. I admit, it would have been nice to have company at that point. But I wasn’t really alone. The staff behind the bar of the restaurant downstairs gave me ice whenever I asked for it. They called the emergency clinic for me on Sunday morning to ask if they were open and would see me. They called a taxi for me. The clinic evaluated me, gave me an anti-inflammatory injection and charged me nothing (thank you taxpayers of Spain), the same taxi driver returned to take me to the next town. My hosts there provided an ice pack and got it for me whenever I asked for it, invited me to join them for their family lunch the second day I was there, made an appointment for me at the physiotherapist (who worked on my foot, ankle and knee for an hour and a half and charged me all of 30 Euros. Again, thank you Spanish tax payers.) And a friend I made while crossing the Pyrenees, part of the “Camino family” that was together for just four days but became fast friends, offered to leave her Camino and come help me if I needed her. If I had broken my ankle and was unable to walk at all, I probably would have accepted her offer. I knew it was sincere.

One of the learnings of this time is not just that we all depend on the kindness of strangers, but that most of us (perhaps true narcissists are the exception) want, even need, to offer that kindness. And, I don’t know that much about narcissists/narcissism, but I guess if showing kindness fed their self-image, even they would have a need to show kindness! Humanity is a big web; we are woven together. That is hard to see sometimes because we are so fractured and divided politically. But even when we are on polar opposite sides of an issue, you can often still see this deepest impulse to respond to each other when we are in need—remember the story of opposing protestors stopping to help a man who had a heart attack or had collapsed for some reason?

That is something I want to hold on to from this sabbatical time. How everyone supported each other, how total strangers were eager to help, how everyone recognized that we are all on the same path—whether we are walking or providing hospitality and support for those who are walking. We are all pilgrims learning to walk through life, helping each other on the way, walking each other home, as Ram Dass said.

Sharing a common meal in the Pyrenees—the warmth of a company of strangers on a cold, foggy, rainy night.

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One Comment
  1. I am glad “we are walking each other home”…
    What good company I’m in !
    I miss you and have so enjoyed your journal of these amazing sights and experiences and am truly inspired by your choosing to do it.

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