I wish I knew how it all began. Maybe it was the cold snap last weekend, but then again, maybe not. Something happened, though, and all I was left with was a perfectly viable Internet connection and a MacBook that couldn’t find it. Ginger’s laptop could, but not mine. I let it sit for Friday and Saturday, because I was working, tried to see what I could figure out on Sunday; by Monday I was doing my impersonation of Blanche DuBois: forced to rely on the kindness of strangers by calling Apple tech support.
The guy was personable and engaging, even as he informed me that my computer was past its service contract, which meant I would need to pay for help, and then he said, “But let me take a few minutes to see if I can help.” Forty-five minutes later, I knew more about what it wasn’t, but could do little more than say goodnight and go to bed. Today, I decided to call again. A woman answered this time, informed me of my lapsed contract, and then said, “But let me see if I can help.” She gave me a good half hour of her time, finally passing me on to the Wireless Dept. of Apple Help, and to one more person who also told me I would need to pay for a service contract and then said, “But let me see if I can help.” He took me through some screens and maneuvers previously unknown to me and finally said the problem was with my DSL modem, which meant I needed to call Verizon. I was so far in already, I decided to keep going. I learned, first, that Verizon had a specific Mac department, so I got to make a second call and talked to yet another nice tech support person who had a whole new set of exercises for me to try. Just when it appeared I had flummoxed my fourth techie, he asked if he could “share my screen” and soon he was moving things around on my computer while I sat and watched. One of the windows he opened was one I had looked at with everyone I talked to. He stopped and asked if a small box at the bottom of the screen was checked. (I would give you more specifics, but I’m scared to open that window again for fear of changing something.) I told him it was, and he said, “That’s the problem. That box should not be checked. It’s often the problem, but it is such an insignificant thing that we often forget to look at it.”
And, with the click of a mouse, my problem was solved. OK, three hours later and a click of the mouse, but, hey, I’m back in business thanks to four very patient and personable people whom I met because I needed help.
And they helped me.
My morning began with my joining the story of Miep Gies already in progress on NPR’s Morning Edition. Gies is the person who hid Anne Frank and her family; the story was marking her death on January 11; at 100, she was the last of the Dutch citizens who hid the Franks from the Germans. I was struck, in particular, by this section of the story.
MIEP GIES: I, myself, I’m just a very common person. I simply had no choice. I could foresee many, many sleepless nights and a life filled with regret if I would have refused to help the Franks. And this was not the kind of life I was looking for at all.
TERI SCHULTZ (NPR Correspondent): Gies explained another motivation for emphasizing her modesty. She said if people are allowed to think it takes remarkable qualities to act boldly on behalf of others, few will attempt it.
Ms. GIES: People should never think that you have to be a very special person to help those who need you.
I suppose the truth in her words applies whether or not one’s life is on the line. I don’t mean to think of the kindness I received to carry the same weight as what Miep Gies did for Anne and her family, but I do think it’s the same motion. The difference is in degree, not substance. We were built to be kind, to be helpers, if we are willing to exercise those muscles.
On the same Friday night my Mac lost its way, Ginger and I spent some time at her favorite sermon incubator, the Starbucks on Guess Road. I didn’t yet know of my dilemma because I took only a book – one of my Christmas presents – Ed Dobson’s The Year of Living like Jesus. Dobson is a retired pastor who has ALS and decided to spend a year trying to live – eat, worship, act, speak, be – like Jesus as much as possible. As you can imagine, it was not an easy year. What struck me as much as anything was the way his search for Jesus pried open his heart to experience life with more compassion. We left the coffee shop in what was becoming a bitterly cold evening (even by Boston standards) and were talking as we drove home. Then Ginger said, “Maybe we should give the person at the bus stop a ride.”
I hadn’t seen a person or a bus stop, but I made a u-turn on what was an empty street, and we drove the two or three blocks back to where she was. Ginger rolled down the window and asked her if she wanted a ride. “Yes Ma’am,” she said, and got in the car. She was in her twenties, I figured out from what she told us of her story, and was on her way to see a friend. Durham is not that big a city, so we were only eight or ten minutes from her destination. We dropped her off and worked our way back home, wondering out loud why we didn’t pay more attention to lonely souls standing at bus stops. I was grateful we stopped; I was even more grateful for Ginger’s eyes. We may not have to be special people, you see, but we do have to look for one another.
Bob Bennett wrote a song many years ago on his Small Graces CD that I keep coming back to, and I thought of it again tonight. The chorus says, simply:
there’s a hand of kindness holding me
theres a hand of kindness holding me
holding on to me
I have learned (again) that kindness is not an abstraction; it is hands-on stuff. And we are the hands.