Sunday, July 17, 2011

the kindness of strangers - and not-so-strangers

"That woman looks defeated." That was David's first impression of me as he looked out his second floor window in Galena, Illinois at about 5:15 p.m. yesterday. Below, Aaron and I were having a discussion (sure, let's call it that) that was exasperated, to say the least. Once again, our day was turning out to be much longer and harder than anticipated, this time thanks to intense heat and humidity, hilly gravel roads, a few 15% grades, and man-eating gnats. We had come through the quaint river town of Galena with the intention of moving on to Dubuque, Iowa for the night, another 20 or so miles away. We were trying to decide if we should call it a day and find a place to land in Galena.

As we went back and forth, with tired silences punctuating the conversation, David continued his tasks around he house, wondering if he should intervene. He went back to the window a few times to see if we were still there. We were. Later, he said my body language - straddling my bike, slumped over the handlebars, staring away from Aaron, glazed over with fatigue and annoyance - was what made him certain that we could use an option. A cyclist himself, David had been there. He came down to the street, approached us, and asked where we were headed. "Great, more small talk," I thought. "Just what we need right now." (We get a lot of attention in towns, at restaurants and outside convenience stores because of our loaded up bikes.) But David wasn't making small talk. Within moments, he had offered us his spare room and we were bringing our bikes in. After our all-important end-of-day showers, we were out walking around Galena, then having at Otto's place, then having ice cream, then beer, and eventually ending the night listening to some live bluegrass, our moods and spirits having taken a complete turn from those first moments in Galena.

I'm not a person who believes that everthing happens for a reason. I believe that everything happens and it's up to us to decide what to do in response. But David's showing up when he did does give me pause, make me think about what the universe had in store for us. After such a low and difficult afternoon, I was more than willing to be removed from my own mind due to the generosity of a complete stranger.

While David's generosity was perhaps the least expected so far on our trip, there have been many other occurrences of people going out of their way for us. When we rolled into Indiana Dunes State Park the other evening and learned that a) the campground was booked and b) no, they wouldn't just let us pitch our tent somewhere, Adam and Mary happened to be biking by. Moments passed, then they were offering to let us pitch our tent on their site. Fast forward a few hours and Mary was making us amazing campfire fruit pies as we all sat around chatting. And of course there was the Gautsches in Goshen, who knew me simply as a co-worker pal of their daughter's and who cooked us meals and toured us around town. And there was Steve and his parents in Massillon, cooking us an amazing dinner, plus sending us off with fruit, crackers and (no joke) homebaked bread. And there was the man at the convenience store in East Canton, who insisted on giving us money for lunch as an affirmation of our efforts. And the woman today who took our picture and told us she'd send it to the local paper for publication. And all the other well wishes we get when we stop for breakfast or Gatorade. For me, the generosity is most valuable because of what it does for me emotionally, not physically. Though eating homecooked meals and sleeping in real beds have their place as well.
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  1. we all need more Davids and to be more David

  2. I am humbled and moved by your kind words. Thank you for coming into my life. :)