The Kindness of Strangers

My husband made us dinner a few nights ago. When I sat down, I couldn’t help but notice the beauty and bounty at our small table. The brilliance in the colors of the food—reds, yellows, shades of green, oranges—were such a contrast   to the below zero temperature outside and the early darkness of mid-December in northern Idaho. This wasn’t a special meal, more like regular fare for most of us, and yet…

This particular evening, enveloped in the beauty, the lighting, our warm home, I started thinking about all the people who had made that dinner possible. The cook, of course, then potatoes and onions from my friend Ellen, broccoli, avocados, and peppers from distant farms and farmers in California, bananas from South America. Others grew the seeds for those vegetables, truck drivers delivered the boxes of seed, factory workers made the packages that held the seed and the boxes in which the seeds arrived.

And what about the workers on those farms? If the farm was of any size, it required waves of migrant workers throughout the season to plant, fertilize, harvest, fumigate, and pack. Even my friend Ellen on her small farm needed extra hands.

On the organic farms, other beings played critical roles too—cows generated manure, bees fertilized blossoms, worms aerated soil, millions of tiny microbes freed up nutrients. And then all that food was transported by another inter-connected chain of people— distributors, drivers, oil workers, highway crews, grocery stockers, checkers . . .

And what of all the people who gave those workers life and the people who taught them their skills? My dinner couldn’t have happened without them either.

This was only one meal. Multiply that by two or three meals every day for a lifetime—people all over the earth are spending their lives feeding me.

And what of all the other things I use or do in the course of a day and the web of people required to make my physical survival possible?

Each of these individuals or beings may not have had a focused intention to help me personally. But that’s not really the point. The fact is that I am completely dependent on them. I would not last long without the efforts of strangers.

I imagine some of these people take pride and satisfaction in their work. Others find it onerous and wish they were doing something else. Some work under unsafe conditions for little pay. All of them struggle with worries, sicknesses, and broken relationships.

And yet, it is easy for me to forget or ignore those that I imagine are not close to me—the day laborer looking for work in January, the middle-aged woman stocking the grocery shelves, the long-haul trucker driving 55 m.p.h. in the fast lane—and every other living being on whom I depend.

It isn’t possible for any of us to have relationships with everyone, but we can hold every being with kindness and compassion and take no one for granted. The reality is that we are far more alike than different—every one of us wants to be free of problems and pain and to be happy. The gift of gratitude for the kindness we receive every moment costs us nothing, and as soon as we give it, we receive its benefit.

No wonder Mikao Usui encouraged us to show gratitude to every living thing and Hawayo Takata suggested we count our many blessings.

Our best wishes to you this holiday season and throughout 2010.

Be well, be happy,

Susan and Paul for Reiki Healing Arts

This article will appear in Touch magazine, Winter 2010.