The Kindness of Strangers, and the Search for a Potentially Healing Community

I have a tendency to think that the whole world and everyone in it is inherently good when I stumble upon one kind stranger, and to think the entire opposite when I stumble upon a particularly unpleasant stranger. I recently began attending NA and AA meetings, and so far, it’s been a positive experience. I had gone to an AA meeting back in Lindsay when I still living there and had a pretty bad time, so I wrote off the whole program as entirely useless to me. But now I realize it was simply the place and the time that wasn’t right, not the program. Anyway, at NA meetings, keychains are given out for milestones like attending your first meeting, thirty days clean and sober, sixty days, ninety days, etc. When I was given my ‘first meeting’ keychain, I dared myself to actually use it, to put my keys on it, knowing it would be visible to others. It was a scary move for me, but I felt good about it.

One day, while I was standing in line at a convenience store, a man behind me placed his hand on my arm. At first I was angry because I don’t like it when people touch me without my permission, especially men, and especially when they’ve come up from behind me without my knowledge. But then he told me that he noticed my keychain, and wanted to congratulate me. On our way out of the store, he showed me a bunch of his NA and AA keychains and medallions, and said, “My family says I seem a lot more clear-headed now.” I said, “Yeah, this new-found clarity is pretty wonderful,” and we went on our way. It sort of brightened up my day to get this positive encouragement from a total stranger who seemed to feel somehow connected to me in some vague way. That was one of the days where I felt like the world could be a good place.

Later, I was at Starbucks (yeah, shut up, their drinks make me happy, and they cost the same as the indie places here anyway), and they had Eddie Vedder’s new album, Ukelele Songs, for sale at the counter. Luckily for me, it was payday (and by payday, I mean disability cheque day). I bought the album and had a pretty great discussion with one of the baristas about how I kind of really love listening to artists who are still alive. I do. And I remembered how I had recently read in Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude by Emily White how store clerks are actually being trained these days not in the sales tactics of old, but in engaging folks in conversation that may or may not be related to what they are trying to sell, but simply cheers the spirits of the person they’re talking to. Starbucks especially has been trained in this approach, which is not surprising; I could be cynical and say what a bunch of jerks, being fake-nice to me so I’ll keep coming back and buying their addictive coffee, but frankly, even it’s just a money-grab, I kinda like it. For some folks, myself included, a little conversation with the person who just made me a cup of coffee might be the only conversation I have that day, and yeah, it does make me feel better sometimes. (This is a topic for another day, but the fact that salespeople are being trained in kindness and conversation is an effort to respond to statistics showing that loneliness rates are getting higher and higher – sad, but neat.)

My mood went down the other day for some unknown reason. I think I was just sad about being broke, and not being where I want to be in life, which is just about everybody’s story, so whatever. Anyway, I knew I had a choice to keep on dwelling on stuff and hating the world and hating my place in it and being bitter and resentful, or I could sit down and relax and do something good for myself. So I wrote a list of what I wanted, and wondered where and how to find it. The list was purple ink on purple paper, and it said:

– recovery
– healing
– calm
– restfulness
– openness
– honesty
– mindfulness
– wisdom

I lit a candle, made a cup of tea, and asked my Tarot cards. Where will I find all these things I need?! “Within myself, obviously!” I thought, but when I drew a card, it was The World. I was reminded of a quote I had recently read: “Survival may happen in hospital but recovery happens in the community.” (From Borderline Personality Disorder: The Facts by Roy Krawitz and Wendy Jackson)

I’ve been mulling that one over for a few months now because, um, what community? What fucking community?! I’ve never felt that sense of community that everybody is always rambling on about, and the world has always seemed far more destructive than healing for me. But I can’t hole up in my apartment and hope for everything to magically be okay, so the challenge now is to go out into the world, and try to find the things that might heal me. Attending meetings is part of that, riding my bike along the river is part of that, getting re-involved in roller derby is part of that, positive encounters with strangers is part of that, and, as of yesterday, volunteering in a community garden on a farm on the outskirts of town is part of that. And writing, as usual.

The original title of this entry was, “The Kindness (and Fucked Up-edness) of Strangers,” and I was going to juxtapose positive moments with strangers with a few of my recent negative experiences with strangers, but I am no longer in the mood to write about the things that make me angry. Maybe another day.

Communally Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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