Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
– Hebrews 13:2
Last week I finished reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. It has been a long time since a story has stayed with me several days after completion. As a matter of fact, I read the final chapter rather slowly as I did not want the experience to end.
The book is a memoir of Cheryl’s 1,000-mile hike through the Pacific Crest Trail. It was during this trek that she met some remarkable people, including herself as she bore and discovered a completely new Cheryl. The stories were heartbreaking, inspiring and thought-provoking.
One of the paramount elements in this book was the ever-present kindness of strangers along the PCT. People Cheryl had never met would invite her into their homes, cabins and RVs to share a meal, let her shower and get a good night’s sleep. Storekeepers had designated areas where they allowed the hikers to set up camp for free. There were give away boxes at every stop for hikers to take what they needed and leave what was no longer useful to them on the trail.
I felt a kindred spirit with Cheryl. Not as a hiker, no. I’m not outdoorsy enough to do something that “Wild”, ha!
The memory this book awakened was that of a 12-year old runaway, Elysia (that’s me). Living off Winchell’s donuts, sleeping in my friend’s closets or at the laundromat.
It was at this said laundromat that I had fallen asleep in the middle of the day. When I woke up, there was a couple folding their clothes with their son. “Well good morning Sleeping Beauty”, the husband said with a smile. I shyly returned the smile. He cracked some jokes with his wife and kid and we all chuckled at something I cannot remember today.
They were done folding their clothes and had loaded them up. The husband came back in and said that they were picking up a pizza and heading over to the park. He asked me if I would like to join them. After a week’s diet that consisted of glazed, chocolate, powdered and sprinkled donuts – pizza sounded just grand! I paused for a moment, thinking this could be dangerous. But I got good vibes from them so I hopped in their car and off we went.
Pepperoni pizza! Life was good. After we were all full, their son headed out to the swings. Somehow the subject came up about why I slept in the laundromat. Well, it was warm for one. “I ran away from home.”, I said.
No judgment. They didn’t even ask me why I had taken off from home. Though I am not sure I would have known the answer then. I am sure I was afraid of something. It might have been big, it might have been little. The inconsistency of the parenting I was receiving was altogether confusing. My mom might just blow one thing off or kick my ass…it was always a toss-up.
Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty “Wild” myself even at the age of 12, already smoking, drinking and doing drugs. I hated being told what I could or could not do. But these “rules” changed from moment to moment. I think my parents were just as confused as I was. I don’t blame them. Raising a bunch of teenagers can be pretty damn scary.
The lead singer of BowWoWow had the most excellent Mohawk-Mullet style haircut and I had wanted it badly. Mom said “Hell No!” Being the rebellious young woman I was, I normally would have just gone out and had it cut anyway. But there were two things that could have happened. My mom would either yell at me and tell me how stupid that was, or she would have taken a pair of scissors and chopped the whole thing off. That very thought was enough for me to put a halt to such vain rebellion. Doing drugs was much easier to hide.
So back to this couple. As they dropped me off at the laundromat the husband told me that they would return the following Friday. If I were still there, we could get some breakfast. It was during this breakfast that I decided it was time to go home. Having a roof over my head was worth living in uncertainty…at least for another couple of months when I would again find myself taking off.
I never saw the couple again and don’t remember their names. But their spirits show up every now and again, when a stranger smiles at me or holds the elevator that I am rushing to catch. Or when someone slows their car to let me get into their lane.
I feel there is more kindness in the world than we give credence to. The rise of social media has shown more hate than we would have liked to imagine. It is unfortunate. Yet, I believe this is because all the good people are too busy doing random acts of kindness out in the real world and have no extra time to comment on a news article. I’m okay with that.
I hope someday I will honor that couple and be a kind stranger to someone…just like they were to me.
Stay blissful my friends – E