As a child growing up in Mexico City, my father would always opt to drive home to Fort Worth to see the family during school vacations. The drive was a three-day trip and needed to be calculated carefully as there were few gas stations along the way and no room for mistakes. My memories include smelling the fragrance of the orange blossoms as we drove by orchards in the warm evening air and my parents gobbling down bags of fruit before arriving at the border crossing.
Traveling long distances was simply part of my childhood so when my oldest daughter, Rachel, decided to work on the East coast after graduation from college, we loaded her car and drove from San Diego to Boston looking just like the Clampett family. As we drove, we listened to playlists that she had compiled just for me (no arguing over the radio stations), talked about her future, listened to books on tape from Cracker Barrel and took detours to see The Woman’s Museum and Niagra Falls. We were reminded that most of America does not live in big cities as we drove through small rural areas which appeared to us to be in the middle of “nowhere”. We were humbled with the friendliness and kindness everyone exhibited to complete strangers as we checked in to local motels. We marveled at the diversity and expansiveness of this country we live in.
Sometime after that, I packed Sophia Loren, my cute little convertible, and started driving from Austin to San Diego on another new adventure. At the end of my first day on the road, I checked in to a motel in Ft. Stockton, Texas. Tired from the drive and the work push before my departure, I surveyed the restaurant landscape and decided that fast food was losing its luster. I settled on K-Bobs, a large bustling restaurant, clearly the town hotspot and community gathering place for dinner. Sitting at the table under an alcove covered with plastic grapes on the trellis and a beer stein of red wine, I closed my eyes and listened to the mixture of Spanish and Texas twang. The men had on their work clothes and boots, their company logos proudly emblazoned on their shirts or caps, the women were talking about church committees or school sports and the older folks were greeted warmly by everyone as they arrived.
In honor of my father, I ordered family style comfort food, his favorite, which included a chicken fried steak smothered with gravy and mashed potatoes. My entire dinner was less than $10 and I noticed there was a placard on the table announcing gift cards for sale. When my young waitress returned, I asked to buy a gift card and while she prepared the bill, I wrote a little note that
said “This gift is for you because you are special.” When she came back, I paid for my dinner and then asked her to pick an older couple at the restaurant after I left and give it to them and just tell them it was from a stranger. She stood there surprised and a little confused but assured me she would take care of it. I walked across the street to the motel just glad to be a part of the warmth of the American people in that small community.
In this day and age, where the media is a constant reminder of what is wrong in our society, I have felt inspired and grateful as I have watched our citizens step up in every possible way to address one catastrophe after another this year. From the images of help on the way in private boats, pontoons and jet skis to help flood victims, to the lines of people donating blood in Las Vegas, the inner moral compass that we each live by has guided us to do the right thing for those around us. Catastrophes will come and go and the momentary rush to assist often fades. But, random acts of kindness cannot and writing this is a reminder to me to find some way to practice daily.
Can we commit with no expectation of proudly feeling the gratitude of someone else or visually seeing their smile but simply because the world will be a better place, a kinder place, if we do? Perhaps, by just hoping that we have brightened a stranger’s day, we have enriched our own in ways we can’t begin to know at the time. I know that I didn’t feel alone that night because I was connected somehow to someone else in a place that I might have initially looked at as the middle of nowhere. But, nowhere is always somewhere meaningful to someone. Acknowledging that and taking interest might just be a first step across the bridge.
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