A few years ago I came across a story that affected me & was most likely the seed of this whole project. The fictition of this story by Kent Nerburn never dampened what it has meant to me. If you are unfamiliar with The Cab Ride I’ll Never Forget I urge you to read it.
Like in the story the strangers I have the pleasure of talking with on my birthday have etched in me channels of memory & sympathy that in no other way could have been carved.
Strangers are an important part of our lives whether we know or accept that fact or not.
This is the second of a set of posts that address the fact that some of the most important people in my life began as strangers.
Walking inside the Climatron in the Missouri Botanical Gardens is a treat during the colder weather. A few years back I had no idea just what a treat that walk would be. This was where I met J.R. Strolling slowly along the path I noticed he & I both were fathers. Upon inquiry we chatted a bit then went our separate ways at the exit.
We ran into each other again not 15 minutes later in the Childrens’ Garden. Our talk deepened quickly & we realized how similar we were. Our beckoning schedules parted us with an email exchange. A week later I dropped off a music compilation I’d promised him in his mailbox two blocks from me.
Our contact sputtered & stopped for over a year. I emailed him in a request to meet up. His quick response was echoed in action by an enthusiastic greeting in the same building that we met over a year before. What I sought in his company was his experience in religion - It was when I was contemplating becoming a Zen priest (at which I aim still.)
We would meet at the Botanical Gardens & talk about religion each Wednesday week after week. I suppose I should mention now that he is a Pastor of a church in the suburbs. I’ve even given a talk on Zen to his congregation.
Our friendship has grown quietly over the past few years. As it turns out we have been strengths for each other during some of the hardest times in our lives. His current situation has ached in my heart since he opened up to me. I place myself in his situation constantly & I am always amazed at a few things.
J.R. has not once spoken ill of his situation or the persons involved. He’s not complained or pointed blame in the slightest. He is a compassionate, tender & strong person. He continues to be an inspiration to me. He plays an important role in my life. His church is extraordinarily blessed to have him.
He & I even published a book together.
What I can say about speaking up to a stranger is that it is always worth it. Sometimes it takes a smile to get the gumption to get that first word out. Sure you might get a snare or perhaps a best friend.
Most Good Samaritan stories include the do-gooder performing an action for the benefit of a stranger. A handful of these might include a giving of a small bit of money to help out. We don’t hear nearly any stories about someone giving $15,000 to help another out. This is that story.
I am aware we all don’t have that kind of money lying around but that kind of donation to help another is astounding. I can only imagine what kind of other great deeds could be accomplished if the wealthier class used their money likewise.
This project is in its third year & there is a lot to discover about its process. Posting the classified a month out has proved important. I’ve also learned to take each response with a grain of salt. The responses fade quickly with each correspondence leaving few maintaining contact. Keeping alternate plans is key as this year’s original stranger stood me up & as it turned out for the best. Instead of meeting with him, I visited my dad that day & later having the opportunity to share in a remarkable conversation with M.M. Full disclosure – Having no other options I decided to meet with a lady I’d once been introduced to long ago but never talked with. Without further comment I present my third birthday stranger!
I walked into the restaurant & began to relax when a hostess offered to seat me. As I replied a woman walked over & introduced herself. Conversation opened before we were led to our table. M’s open book personality immediately captured & held my attention as she told me about her life & the life of her family.
Germany’s surrender in May 1945 brought to a close World War II, leaving M’s captured aunt abandoned near the Austrian border. Uncertainty about her location did not discourage her aunt from traversing roughly 200 miles over the course of four months. Her return to Bamberg, Germany was not a return to life as before, though.
The text that greeted me today on Ask.io saddened me. [below] I emailed the guy responsible & let him know I had been visiting his site weekly & stood behind his vision. I hope it returns because the idea is fantastic.
Thanks to everyone for participating, but ask.io is shutting down. We were able to do some cool and meaningful things, but I wasn’t able to find the right way to get people engaged and active each week. I’m going to rethink the way ask.io works, and relaunch at a later time. If you have any questions, send me an email.
I’ve finished annotating the audio of the Birthday Stranger conversation. The next step is note taking, outlining & finally writing the article. Until then I thought I would share what I ended up doing when the original Birthday Stranger no-showed.
We were to meet at a fast food joint in South County off Telegraph Rd. & highway 270 at 1 PM. I arrived early & checked around the diner to locate him. I grabbed a coffee & took a seat near the front door to catch him on his way in. Each arrival of an older man piqued my interest. After thirty minutes rolled around I decided he must have changed his mind about meeting me.
I took this opportunity to visit my father’s grave in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. I sat on top of his grave on a small tarp I had in my trunk since snow covered the ground. I spoke as if he were present telling him I was stood up & wishing I could have spent my birthday with him being that he was a stranger of sorts to me. I began sobbing.
I told him about what was going on in life & my family. I sat quiet after that listening to a backhoe dig the grounds for other veterans. I watched a slow stream of cars pass or park leading other visitors to leave a trail of footprints in the snow.
I could have certainly been angered by being stood up but what does a complete stranger owe another anyway? I know this will not be the last time it happens. What truly motivates me in this project is encouraging others to expect the most from others…especially strangers. Even when a stranger let’s you down or offends you in some way…who knows perhaps it is a gift in disguise. For me this stranger gave me the gift of time with my dad…so thank you L.E.