The "Blindness" of Strangers

Tracey Maine

© Copyright 2001 by Tracey Maine

Just like Blanche DuBois, the tragic heroine of the classic play, A Streetcar Named Desire, I too "have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Meaning, in this very insecure world, I find comfort in the belief that all human beings share a fundamental need to be of service to one another, most notably, in times of distress.

For example, I once found myself stranded at a bus station in an unfamiliar city with several hours to kill before my ride home was scheduled to depart. Having spent the bulk of my money on my bus ticket, I was left with hardly any money for luxuries-such as food. Alone, and becoming increasingly famished by the second, I happened to wander into the vending area of the bus station. There, I gazed adoringly into a sandwich machine, all the while, with my stomach growling like a starving lion. Desperate for even the slightest morsel of nourishment, I began fumbling through my purse for spare change to perhaps, at the least, be able to purchase a candy bar. Suddenly, I heard a sound behind me. Thus, I turned to make direct eye contact with a middle-aged woman who had just stepped up to a nearby drinking fountain. Oddly enough , although I had never seen this woman before in my life, she smiled at me with a look that made me feel as if she could see right into my very soul. Clearly sensing my plight, the woman struck up a casual conversation with me. Before I knew it, this total stranger, whom I would never meet again-had invited me to join her for a spot of breakfast-with no strings attached!

On another such occasion, circumstances beyond my control once found me stranded miles from home, on a dark, deserted country road, late at night. Cold and frightened, I tearfully began my long stroll homeward, when a pair of headlights started to approach me from behind. Out of the blue, a worn pick- up truck stopped beside me, and the driver politely asked if I was in need of a ride. With my guard up, and my defenses down, I hastily accepted the older male driver's invitation. A half hour later, I found myself being escorted to my front door by this tried and true gentleman, who I would never meet again, whose selfless act of kindness rescued me from what could have been a very harrowing situation.

On a similar note, having been blessed by the gift of some else's unconditional generosity, I feel that I have a spiritual obligation to initially "return the favor," if and whenever I might happen upon another human being in sincere need of a "helping hand."

Coincidentally, just the other day, I stumbled upon a spectacle that tugged at my heart strings unill they were bruised black and blue, which, without a shadow of a doubt, convinced me that the time for me to be of service to my fellow man had most definitely arrived...

I had just finished with a bit of afternoon grocery shopping, and was ready to deposit my purchases in the trunk of my car when an odd sight caught my eye. There, standing at the end of the entrance to the crowded parking lot, was a man holding some sort of sign. Preoccupied with thoughts concerning what I might make for dinner, I got in my car and drove in the direction of the exit, without giving the unfamiliar man a second thought. Then, the traffic light patrolling the four-way intersection turned red, and I was forced to stop my car. However, this twist of fate allowed me to get a better look at the man in question, and what I saw made me want to weep buckets of tears. For there, standing in the midst of the scalding afternoon sun, was this man in a ball cap. Perhaps in his early thirties, he was dressed in ragged dirty cloths, carrying a backpack and humbly holding a homemade sign that read," Flat Broke And Starving." However, what really got my attention was that at his side was a poor, helpless dog that was panting as if it were dying of thirst.

At that exact moment, I felt compelled to get out of my car and offer this poor man some assistance. Then, the light had just turned green, and the flow of traffic was so congested, I had no choice but to make my way home. Though, all the way there, I found myself becoming increasingly haunted by visions of the "down on his luck" man and his furry companion, basting in their own perspiration underneath the scorching noonday sun , alone and hungry without seemingly a friend in the world.

Later, as I pulled into my driveway, I had made up my mind that I had to do something to help the man and his dog. Thus, I began unloading my groceries, and in the process, made the man a lunch that consisted of a peanut butter sandwich and a bag of "Pop Tarts." I also filled two plastic bottles full of cold water, and found a bowl the dog could drink from, and a can of pet food. Then, duly armed with my tokens of "good will," I dashed out of my house, hopped back into my car and sped back to the grocery store as fast as the speed limit would allow me.

On reaching my intended destination, I was relieved to see that the man and his dog were still standing right where I had seen them last. However, as I taxied my car into the lot, and proceeded to stake claim to an empty parking space, a disturbing thought crossed my mind. There and then, I began to wonder how might I deliver my offerings to this stranger without running the risk of offending him? So, with no definite plan of action in mind, other than to be as polite as possible, I collected the food and water I had brought with me, and began walking in his direction. Aside from the fact that the sun was so bright that I could barely see, I managed to move myself along, hopefully in a manner geared not to bruise his pride. On noticing my imminent approach, the man put down his sign, and appeared to be receptive to my actions, which I anticipated he would see as those of one human being showing concern for another, and, definitely not as an act of charity. In turn, the man began walking towards me. Though, surprisingly enough, the closer he got, the more I noticed that the overbearing scent of Ralph Lauren's "Polo" Cologne was clearly coming from his direction.

Feeling obligated to speak, I voiced a timid, "Hello," adding that, "I saw you earlier, but wasn't able to stop. I brought you a few things. I made you a sandwich, and there’s some food and water for your dog in the bag." Then, I handed the man my bag of offerings, and he immediately began rummaging through it. Though, oddly enough, instead of an expression of gratitude, the man only looked back at me in bewilderment as if to say, "You have got to be kidding! Is this the best you could do? I Don‘t Think So!"

Although I did not expect my actions to inspire the stranger to begin turning joyous cartwheels, deep down, I would have appreciated a simple, "Thank you" from him. Also, I found myself becoming increasingly puzzled by the man's passive, almost downright smug attitude towards my efforts. For instance, I assumed that the first thing he would do would be to make sure his dog would get a much needed drink of water. Instead, he simply began digging through the bag as if he were searching for something other than what I had brought him. Poised with a blank stare upon his face, the man gazed at me like a spoiled child who had just been handed a box of "Cracker Jacks" which-much to his chagrin-did not contain a prize. Deducing that he much rather would have preferred some "cold hard cash" to a sandwich and "Pop Tarts," I backed away and headed towards my vehicle, but not before noticing that, curiously enough, both his backpack and ball cap boasted "Eddie Bauer" emblems, and, even though his shoes were slightly worn, they were clearly of the "Air Jordan" variety.

In conjunction, I now noticed that my vision had become instantly clearer. Though, at first I thought this might have had something to do with the cluster of clouds now hovering above me like an umbrella which shielded me from the sun’s rays. On the other hand, I was more positive that my sight had been restored to it’s full potential because the metaphorical "wool" this obvious "wolf in sheep’s clothing," had attempted to pull over my eyes had suddenly vanished into thin air. Deducing that I had been "taken in" by his elaborate scheme, I meekly strolled back to my car. In turn, the man coldly ignored the cries of his thirsty dog, or "prop" as the case may be, and brazenly approached a woman who was putting groceries into the trunk of what appeared to be a Mercedes Benz. Fortunately, I was near enough to hear the man begin to tell his newest potential victim his sad "sob story." In response, or perhaps more so in a move geared to induce the man to simply go away, the woman reached in her purse and handed him some money, much to this con man's delight.

Lastly, to add insult to injury, I observed as the very man I had so honorably raced back here to assist, took the bag of food and water I had given him, and deposited them in the nearest trash can.

Presently, I felt a rush of frostbitten cynicism begin to flow through my veins. As my temper began to flair, my better judgment motivated me to return home. Once there, I immediately phoned a close friend and shared my misadventure with her. While we both had a good laugh over my encounter with this certain scam artist, our conversation ended with my friend asking, "If you ever find yourself in a similar sort of situation again, will you react differently?" After pondering my friend's question for a moment, I asked myself, " If I saw someone who appeared to be in need of a "helping hand, " could I simply walk away without giving them the benefit of the doubt?" Finally, I came to the conclusion that, although I had been left somewhat jaded by my experience with the sign carrying man, who had clearly relied on the "blindness," rather than the "kindness" of this stranger, in response to my friends inquiry, my conscious dictated that my answer would have to be, "No."

Contact Tracey

(Messages are forwarded by The Preservation Foundation.
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)

Tracey's Story List and Biography

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher