The Kindness of Strangers



Why we treat strangers better than family!

The Kindness of Strangers – My A ha moment

I wish change were as cut and dry as alcohol on a pimple. Apply alcohol. Pop. Done. Gone.
No, sadly, change is not that easy.

Especially true when it came to my pre-pubescent woolly headed teenager Phoenix, who in his words was “forced to go on a two week road trip “, with two bickering soon to be divorced, adults.

I don’t think he would have minded the road trip from Ohio to California as much if it also wasn’t a, “we might be moving back to California” trip, which would be an unwelcome change in his life.

I’m sure that the scowl worn on his face throughout the entire 3,000-mile journey was the result of the anxiety he felt thinking about having to move away from his cousins and friends in Ohio.

I also felt the angst of my youngest son since we had only been back in Ohio less than two years, which had been just enough time for him to get reacquainted with family, meet new friends, and adjust to his new school.

No doubt it also added to his discontentment that his parents were no longer friendly towards one another and argued just about every single mile of the trip over things as monumental as we are getting a divorce, to you pulled away from the drive-thru before I could check my order.

Question: What do you do when everything in your life is falling apart? Naturally, you hit the highway with a man you despise so much that it actually feels like hate (although you were taught as a child to never hate anyone, so you don’t), and a pre-teen who despises you so much that you overhear him telling someone he hates you. “I hate her.”

Despite “forcing” my son to go on a road trip, I was a good mom unless I would have told him that I hate him too. I didn’t hate my son of course, even though I did hate how he was acting. I also hated his unruly afro and that each time I looked at his pimpled oily face, he was frowning back at me.

He was growing his hair out so that it could be braided, and it was causing me angst because it looked truly terrible.
Fuck you Allen Iverson for being the hot NBA star at that time and wearing your NBA hairstyle in braids, influencing boys everywhere to want to emulate you.

So, I “forced” my son to go on this trip and as a sort of a tradeoff, I allowed him to grow his hair out.
I was born and raised in Ohio, as were my two sons. I loved Ohio but had outgrown our small town so when Phoenix was still in diapers and his older brother (who wasn’t on this most recent road trip) was five, we moved to California where we would live for over a decade.

I loved living in California and while living there, the stars aligned for many years and things were great.
However, there came a time when we could no longer make things work in California financially and had to pack up and eventually move back home. Back in Ohio, I yearned for California, the beautiful weather, having a location independent income and meeting new people.

Then a wonderful thing happened yet again.

The stars aligned once again. Well, not exactly. My husband and I lost our jobs in Ohio and our relationship became ever more turbulent; we decided a road trip would be a perfect way to figure things out.

So we hit the road. The only thing my ex and I really had in common was our love for adventure, camping and seeing new places.

I left my oldest son so that he could finish a program he was enrolled in, and took the pre-teen scowler. Not even buying him his favorite fast food (Burger King) and junk food (butterfingers) could make him stop scowling at me.

Not even letting him keep that mound of tightly curled hair (that would be a bitch to comb out and braid) would make him smile.

It didn’t help that his Dad and I bickered during the entire trip. Only he didn’t scowl or “hate” him.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my ex-told me sometime after our divorce that he’d “hated” me for a long time and of course, there goes that strong word again – hate – that I was taught no one is ever supposed to use.

No wonder on that trip and for the last few years of my life he’d done everything he could do to make my life a living hell. The cue for me to leave should have been years earlier when he told me he’d made a pact with God a long time ago, saying that he should never come in his house, and he would never go in his.
Yep, he was the devil.

We arrived at our first destination, a campground, a little before the fourth of July. My then husband barely parked the car before I bolted out to escape to a shower, a good book, and some friendly conversations with strangers.

Something else I was taught growing up, besides never using the “hate” word, was to beware of strangers and not to talk to them. I was told strangers are bad people. I even taught my two sons that same rule.
However, my thoughts about strangers changed when I moved to California. There, I first discovered that strangers are some wonderful people.

Did I mention that I’ve come to love strangers?

A stranger doesn’t know you and you don’t know the stranger, so you both are on your best behavior when meeting. You wouldn’t dare show a stranger your bad side.

One such stranger, we met at this campground was a lovely pre- teen girl who became an instant BFF with Phoenix. She was a breath of fresh air. She instantly turned my son’s scowl into a super sweet smile.
He even picked out his hair, washed the grease from his face, which magically got rid of the zits, and dare I say, he begins smiling a lot. Finally, I recognized this beautiful creature I’d birthed all those years ago.

Beneath the smile, I’m sure he was still mad at me, but he didn’t show it. Over the next few nights, there was lots of S’more, smiles, strangers and hotdogs around the campfire.

That’s when it hit me, my “AHA” moment. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but it is when I discovered that not all strangers are bad. In fact, many strangers are totally nice.

When I was back home in Ohio, I had settled into my family and friends, and familiarity sometimes breeds unkindness. We talk to the ones we love any kind of way and show them the worst side of us.
However, with strangers, we are always on our best behavior. We always remember our manners. We comb our hair. We bathe. We say nice things to them.

Strangers are like two ships passing by. You don’t get to know them long enough to “hate” them and vice versa. We mostly get the good side of them and not the human side that includes real emotions like anger, frustration and sadness.

I didn’t connect this “aha” moment at the time, but thinking back; it played a part in our family moving out West, along with the stars aligning. Family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors had become so familiar.
Remember: familiarity breeds the human side in which people don’t often treat each other like strangers, which is to say kindly.

We didn’t end up moving back to California because the stars ended up aligning up back in Ohio and the road trip was just what I needed so that I could once again view my loved ones in Ohio as strangers. I missed them; I love them.

Phoenix turned into a wonderful young military man. Such a gentleman. I got that divorce and to this day I enjoy a very cordial relationship with my ex-husband.

The decision to take my road trip ledto my “A HA” about why it’s important to treat family and friends as nice as strangers. 

Strangers’ rock and my family does too!

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