Today was a day where I happened to meet and get to talk to quite a few people who were complete and total strangers to me. This has happened fairly often recently–I am still fairly new in Oregon, after all, and even within those areas where I am accustomed to going there are new people around. Since I’m someone who is generally friendly to outsiders (especially since I know all too well what it is like to be an outsider and an outcast myself), I generally find it very enjoyable to get to know new people, especially since I assume that most people are generally pretty nice  and find it enjoyable to make new acquaintances for no other purpose or motive than to make life less lonely and more familiar and friendly.
At times, however, I find that the kindness of a stranger or the kindness to strangers happens to make life complicated. Often, I find that many incidents of kindness to strangers can make life feel very complicated, especially when they are interconnected in ways that are impossible for me to understand, even if I were a person who was skilled at dealing with relationships (and honestly, I am not particularly skilled at relationships, or my life would have taken a much different turn). Since my life has put me in the sort of track where I meet a lot of strangers , at least it has given me many opportunities to show friendliness to strangers, and to graciously accept the kindness of strangers, even if it has complicated my life a bit along the way. While I certainly long not to be a stranger forever , at least while I am, I hope I have developed at least some ability to cope with it.
One of the first acts of kindness of a stranger that I remember, and one that had a profound effect on my life, happened when I was a fourth grader. During that time I was engaged in one of my few political campaigns in life, an attempt to be elected student body vice president of my elementary school. I was engaged in a pretty fierce (and, truth be told, a pretty dirty) campaign at the age of nine. During that time, my own campaign posters around school were defaced, as were my opponent’s, and in the entire fourth grade body of students, there was only one student who really stood by me in the face of a lot of ridicule and attacks, and that was a young woman named Nikki, who came from a family situation not unlike my own. I did not know her particularly well, though for the next several years she popped up in my life in rather odd ways. For example, the next year after that she and I played in our school’s chess tournament for third place, and I won the match and ended up having my name engraved on the plaque for the school, along with a brother and sister team that had gotten first and second place. A couple years after that, when we were both eighth graders, she was also very supportive against bullies, something I always appreciated given that I have often been rather shy and timid when it came to defending myself, especially against ridicule from girls (given my generally gentlemanly ways and my disinclination to attack women). Then, when I was a senior in high school, I found out that Nikki’s younger sister was a freshman at my high school, and so I sought to convey my continued gratitude towards her sister by doing what I do best (or at least most often), writing a letter to Nikki and conveying it via her sister (this is not the only time that has happened in my life, interestingly enough). In this particular case, I received back a very pleasant message from Nikki that expressed her surprise that I had remembered her kind deeds even after all those years. I just am not the sort of person who forgets the kindness of others, especially in difficult and unpleasant moments, knowing how rare such kindness has been in the course of my life.
I was reminded of the complicated nature of the kindness of strangers and to strangers somewhat recently, as it forms part of the continuing personal saga of my life, especially over the past few months. Today, before church services, I spoke to a man who was a complete stranger to me, and to his friend (who was visiting from the East Coast along with her son and grandson). In getting to know this stranger, I commented on my teaching in Thailand, which reminded him of others from Oregon who had taught at the same school before, and I found out that he was the father of one of the other fellow teachers of this school and of a couple of other people I have known for about a decade or so and another acquaintance of mine, so we ended up talking a lot about his children and grandkids in a friendly way (and about the fact that many grandparents, including my own, have played a major role in bringing up grandchildren because of divided families), even though I had never seen or met him before (and I am not sure how much he knew about me either). In the course of that conversation a mutual friend came over to chat, and I suspected that my act of friendliness to this particular stranger had drawn considerable attention because of his relations to other people whom I know fairly well (and would like to know a lot better, if time and circumstance ever permit that to happen). It struck me as though I perhaps might have appeared to be far more strategic and intentional in my act of friendliness than was actually the case, given my random (and often bad) luck in that sort of matter.
This reminded me, naturally enough, of the kindness that has been shown to me as a stranger, kindness that may have helped to complicate my life (which I do a fairly good job at naturally) but which I will always appreciate as well. When I came to Portland, I came as a near total stranger to everyone there. I had only met one person in the congregation in person previously, had a few mutual friends, and had a few other people who mainly knew me from fierce posts at a particularly bad time during a time of serious conflict (in other words, such people had seen the worst aspects of my personality before ever seeing me in person, which is not an ideal way to get to know someone). I also came to Portland in a state of intense shock, in intense horror at the way in which my awkwardness and candor had been misinterpreted in the worst way possible both personally and politically, and in serious need of friendliness and warmth.
As it happened, one person in particular showed a great deal of friendliness from my first church service here (while another stranger showed me great kindness from my first day in a different way), and though I was long far too shy to do more than wave and smile (which is still the main way we interact even months later), and that kindness and graciousness is something also that I will never forget, even if life and circumstances have proven to greatly complicate matters that should be much more straightforward. In turn, that act of kindness allowed for other acts of kindness to arise between other members of our mutual families, to the point where in at least a few cases what had been strangers have now become friends, in a close and mutually supportive and encouraging bond. I am grateful for this, even if it has led to some complications in my own life over the past few months. I trust that such complications as now exist will eventually get better as familiarity and as circumstances allow. It is my belief that honorable people of decent intentions and behavior will make the best of whatever happens with the help of our loving heavenly Father .
So, as I reflect on the matter of the kindness of strangers, I have seen that in many ways my life has drastically depended on the kindness of those who did not know me well. Likewise, I would like to think that I too have served and been a great benefit and encouragement and help at least as it was possible for me to do so as a relative stranger to those whom I helped. It is my hope that those actions are not forgotten either, and that the mutual memories of the kindness of strangers both given and received may help to encourage further kindness, so that gradually we may all learn to be more kind to others, more open, more loving, and more gracious from the start of our interactions with others, so that we may make fewer unnecessary enemies and make more lasting and precious bonds of friendship and intimacy as they are appropriate. Perhaps with time the complications that ensue by our acts of kindness and concern may lead to our edification and our benefit, making the tapestry of our lives rich with interwoven threads of goodness and mercy all the days of our life, and far beyond.