A Glimpse of the Everyday Extraordinary
August 1, 2008
There are moments in life where one is amazed by the generous spirit of mankind. We see many examples to the contrary in the news today, and the evidence of unexplained acts of kindness refreshes and rejuvenates the soul. I had the pleasure to witness such kindness on a recent trip to the state of Texas. I was on the train from Dallas to Fort Worth, eager to visit the highly recommended Stockyards. My friend and I were on the lower level of the train, hoping that the trip would fly by. We hadn’t been sitting there for long before I noticed that there was a unique conversation going on behind me. I admit to being an eavesdropper, especially around people I will never meet. This habit, coupled with my penchant for people-watching, has allowed me to witness both the amazing and disheartening. This time, on a passenger train traveling through the heart of Texas, my eavesdropping allowed me to be encouraged about the state of society. What I witnessed may not be out of the ordinary for some, but to me, it was heartwarming.
My first clue that something extraordinary was happening was the sound of two different male voices—one had the twang of a Texan and the other was of a Spanish-speaking background. As I listened, it seemed like any other conversation between friendly strangers. I enjoyed listening to the lilting differences in their accents. The men started with the regular pleasantries that accompany most unintended meetings. After covering the mundane, the two started talking about sports. They chatted about baseball, and then began a discussion about “American soccer,” or “fútbol,” to the Hispanic man. The Texan mentioned that he did not understand soccer; it was too fast. At this point, I just had to glance back at the pair. The Texan was a middle-aged, balding white man. He wore glasses and had the air of being a career businessman. The Hispanic man fit the image of a hard-working immigrant, wearing a nondescript dark outfit. I couldn’t see him well because his back was facing me, but I guessed that he was in his mid-twenties.
After satisfying my initial curiosity, I tried to get back to studying for a final that was waiting for me back in Ashland. Their continued interaction was too intriguing, however, and I found myself listening in once again, with occasional glances over my shoulder. I marveled as I listened. The Hispanic man was not fluent in English, and leading from their sports talk, the Texan began to teach the other man how to read while both hunched over a newspaper. At one point, the Texan tried to explain the “qu” sound in English, which is quite different from Spanish. Another man across the aisle, whom I assumed was bilingual, jumped into the conversation, offering his pronunciation and comparing the two languages. It made me feel better that I wasn’t the only one eavesdropping. The men also discussed various long and short sounds—reminiscent of a “Hooked on Phonics” lesson. Although worried that my interest would be misconstrued, I was nonetheless enthralled by the kindness with which the Texan aided his newfound friend. I couldn’t help but wish that I was seated closer to them. Observing those around the pair, I saw varied reactions. Some looked amused, but I could tell that others recognized the special nature of what they were witnessing. Eventually, the conversation turned to music groups that both men enjoyed, and it seemed they had come full circle. Beginning with pleasantries, then moving on to sports, and ending with music, the two covered the usual topics easily discussed by strangers.
The surprising twist of a reading lesson made the conversation unforgettable, however, and left a deep impression on me. All too soon, the train came to the younger man’s stop and he rose to leave. He bid farewell with a simple handshake, conveying his genuine gratitude to his short-term friend. The middle-aged man responded in the same manner. As I watched the Hispanic man leave the train, he had a spring to his step and a lightness to his demeanor as he disappeared into the full parking lot—he seemed to be bounding on air. Meanwhile, the businessman acted as though he had done nothing out of the ordinary. Sitting in his seat, he contentedly watched the landscape fly by through the window. A few stops later he also got off. I watched as he left the platform, noting his slow gait—the walk of a man who had had a long day at work and was happy to be heading home. He carried his tan briefcase and made his way to his car.
Little did this man know that his kindness offered me a glimpse into what seemed like another world. In this age of apparent mistrust and fear of strangers, the interaction I witnessed between these two men renewed my faith in the kindness of the human spirit. If only there were more like this man, unassuming yet so powerful. The most lingering effect of this memory was the fact that the middle-aged man seemed oblivious to what he had done. I could not help but recognize the random act of kindness as something that enriches the world but is rarely discussed. My hope was that this experience would heighten my awareness of small kindnesses on a daily basis. I think sometimes we are unaware of these “angels” among us who go about life assisting those who may just need a little encouragement. Throughout the rest of my visit to Texas, I could not remove from my mind the image and memory of that train ride to Fort Worth. The lilting sound of those two voices will echo in my mind for years to come as I strive to show that same kindness to others.
Kristin Striker is a junior from Galion, Ohio, majoring in Marketing.