Stranger in a Strangeland

The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America

While I was on vacation at the end of last week, I took the time to read a couple of books – actually finish one book and read another.  As a chemist with a sociology degree, I am drawn to the nonfiction realm.  Lately, I’ve been on a biography/memoir kick.  Most of the stories involve a person/author who feels the need to live life outside of their comfort zone.  The author is normally at a point in his/her life in which he/she wants to do something different.  He/she wants to interact with people that they wouldn’t normally interact with on a daily basis – to experience new things.

To have these experiences normally means leaving a job, their home, friends, and family.  In some cases, it means living a totally different life – like a devout Jewish person living a year as a Christian as I discovered in Benyamin Cohen’s book, My Jesus Year.  Or hitting the road without a penny to their name to see if society will still open up their lives and their homes to complete strangers in Mike McIntyre’s The Kindness of Strangers.

My Jesus Year: A Rabbi's Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith

The common theme in each of these books is the author’s reliance on others – normally complete strangers – to help them discover their purpose or achieve his personal mission.  For Cohen, it was living life as a Christian to gain a greater appreciation for his own religion.  For McIntyre, it was hitchhiking across the United States penniless, relying solely on the kindness of strangers.

How many of us today would even think of stopping to pick-up a hitchhiker?  Apparently people still do.  People from California to the coast of North Carolina stopped to help McIntyre achieve his mission – travel the country without a penny to his name..  And very rarely were they middle class people like you and me.  They were mostly people of limited means who knew what it was like to be in McIntyre’s shoes – penniless, living off the kindness of strangers.  For me the book sent a powerful message, and made me question how far I would go to help others.

When I read Cohen’s book, I asked myself: How many people would take the time to share their beliefs with a non-believer or even with fellow believers?  Could I do it?  In the book, Cohen shared his experiences with people from many different faiths – Mormons, Baptists, Evangelicals, Monks – and how their faith helped shape their everyday lives.  They all opened up their lives to a complete stranger – in this case Cohen.  As I read the book, I was a bit envious.  I have a hard enough time sharing my thoughts and feelings with my wife – much less a friend or a stranger.

So, you’re probably asking, Delton what is the point of this blog?

I’m not telling you to run out and pick-up hitchhikers or to run tell your wife or your friends your innermost thoughts and feelings.

The point I’m trying to make is don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.  Experience new things.  Be kind to people you don’t know.  Share your thoughts and ideas with new people.  Build a relationship with a co-worker, a fellow church member, or even build a stronger bond with your husband or your wife or your children.

Get to know your neighbors better.  As I’ve read in a number of publications and books, many of us hardly know our neighbors.  We are strangers in our own neighborhood.  So learn more about your neighbors and their families – not just what they do for a living or where they’re from.  Have a deeper discussion.  You never know when that neighbor could make a huge impact in your life or you in theirs.

What do you think?

 

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2 comments on “Stranger in a Strangeland

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