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The kindness of strangers 

“Speak English you f*cking Asians,” he spat at us as he walked past.

My mother and I were talking to each other in Korean at the time. We were waiting for the train, standing next to each other on the crowded platform when it happened.

He came up nice and close. I moved to make room for him, and then he vomited up that bile before he walked away.

When the shock passed, I was angry. I try to run after him, but my mother holds me back. She is worried what he might do to me when I confront him. I don’t care. I have bile of my own I want to spew out.

It wasn’t my finest hour. As I turn to my mother, a man steps in front of me and asks me what happened. I tell him.

“I am so sorry you were subjected to that. He should not have said it.” His voice was full of regret and concern.

It wasn’t his fault. Yet there he was, apologising. He was a stranger who could have kept silent. But he didn’t. He chose to offer some comfort instead, and his kindness eased the sting.

It takes me back to another time, when such kindness made a difference.

I spent most of my childhood in Hobart, Tasmania. I was with my family in town one evening. We were just chatting to each other, when a couple of drunk youths turn up. They start to mimic us.

My father turns to them and smiles. He doesn’t want any trouble. He says “G’day.”

Suddenly they attack. We all run to the car. They follow. One starts jumping on the roof. The other starts hitting the window. I can still remember his smile as he got ready to punch the car window.

It’s not a memory I like to visit often. It’s painful and terrifying. But it’s also necessary, because I wouldn’t have fallen in love with the place and its people without it.

It’s a small community. There was a tiny write up in the local paper. I don’t think our names were mentioned, but people knew. We started getting calls. Kind people wondering if we were ok. Some even came to see us with flowers.

We were nobodies from nowhere. Strangers in their community. Yet there were people who cared enough to ask after us. To show that we mattered.

And it is their memory I cling to as I hear the rhetoric of division from some of our elected representatives and see stories of yet another racist attack.

We need to love harder, care more, be open to giving and receiving help because it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s the small, everyday kindnesses that will heal wounds and build a stronger community.

Yes, there are racist idiots here. There are idiots everywhere, in every country. But I cannot believe everyone is comfortable with hate. I have experienced the kindness of too many strangers to believe that.


Via the Daily Prompt: The Kindness of Strangers

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October 2017
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