The Kindness of Strangers

In August of 2005 I sat in a farm house owned by the aunt of a friend and his family.   The news as ablaze with images of my hometown drowned like a modern Atlantis.   Not long after, the violence started.  You might have thought you were watching images of insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan, as people shot at American troops.  New Orleans had unofficially devolved into a third world nation within a week.

I wasn’t surprised.  I’m cynical, and I grew up in this city.  There are good people in the world.  Honest, hard working people.  But there are bad people as well.  And while I search for the former in everyone, I am well prepared for the latter. It was difficult to remain positive in those days.  It was 3 days of hell before I found out if my Mother and Brother had made it out okay.  I nearly burst into tears when I heard my brother’s static-clouded voice on the other side of a cell phone.  My father had remained in my childhood home.  Eventually I got in touch with him as well.  He’d stayed guarded in my room, surrounded by my hunting knife and my prized Samurai blade in case the violence spread in his direction.   He had no power and no one to turn to, but he was okay.

The worst part was the uncertainty. Most were like me; little in the way of savings and with no way of knoing when ewe could get back to work.  Would be able to return?  Would we even want to return to what was left?  I hadn’t even brought my car with me when I left. We seemed to be the last stragglers in Noah’s newest flood.   So it was at that time that I turned to the one thing that had carried me through all the toughest times in my life: comics.

Comic books had always been my greatest teacher.  Through the power of reading I’d learned all about literature, art, history and American values.   More importantly, I learned how to be a man.

Lafayette isn’t the sort of city you would know about unless you’re from here, but it’s one of the few big cities in Louisiana.    So fortunately I was able to find a local comic shop on Johnston Street.  I stepped into Acadiana Comics looking for a distraction. What I found was hope.

The owner, Ms Teresa, greeted me as I entered.  I recognized the place, though I’d never been there.  It smelled of books.  It felt like home.   Still, I suppose I stuck out.  She asked if I was one of the wretched displaced.  I nodded, and told her of my story.  I didn’t complain, but even someone a cynical as I can appreciate the dispair of moments like that.   When I was done with the search for sweet purchases, I presented her with my credit card.  I knew it was irresponisble, but it’s an indispensible part of my world and sanity.   Seeing the devil’s plastic in front of her, she pushed my hand away.   She said it was the least she could do.

I was genuinely stunned by her graciousness.  I was just another stranger on the street.  I could have been anyone.  Comic shops are modest businesses.  They are self-sustaining, but far from sustainably profitable.  

It may not seem like much to the casual observer.  Just a few comics. Just a little thing.   But that’s the point.  It wouldn’t have hurt her to charge me.  But it did hurt her financially, even in some small way.  But to me, it meant the world.  This is a person that wanted to help.  She did so in the only way she could.  And while I thanked her profusely on the two occasions this happened, I don’t know that I ever got a chance to repay her.

Today, as my job took my into the long haul to Lafayette, I passed her store in the waining hours of the day.   Surprisingly, she was there.  I asked if she remembered me, and she said that I looked vaguely familiar.  And I recounted her kindness.   And I told her how much her kindness had meant to me.   And we talked for a while.   I even bought a Trade from her.  It wasn’t much, but I wanted to pay her back in as much as I could, at least with money.   The truth is I’m not sure I could ever repay her.

She gave me a gift, and it wasn’t a book.   It was a renewed faith in humanity.  An understanding that there are still people who will reach out in kindness to others without reward or even sufficient thanks.

If you’re ever in Lafayette, Louisiana stop by Acadiana Comics and put down a few dollars for a good book.   You never know when some stranger might repay your generosity.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Such a good story, thank you, Adam.

    Reply

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