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It’s friends and family that make life worthwhile, that pull you out of your darkest days, and that bring the greatest joy. But sometimes it’s complete strangers that surprise you the most, and even tilt the balance of your life.

It’s mostly because they bring the unknown. When someone enters your life by random coincidence and does either the smallest good or bad thing, it can shake you through and through because of its unexpected nature.

By now I’m pretty good at reading the moods of friends, colleagues, and roommates. I try to be forgiving when they do something mean or stupid and grateful when they do something kind and lovely. But a few nights ago when I was at Lincoln Memorial, a guy from Park Service started yelling at me and I almost lost it. It’s a bit of a silly story, but basically the women’s bathroom was closed so I tried to use the men’s. This angered the Park Service man so severely that he started chastising me, and when another woman exited the men’s room, he accused me of being in cahoots with her and lying.

That someone I didn’t know could be so rude and mean for no apparent reason just seemed so outrageous. It made me angrier than it should have as I consider myself an understanding person. But perhaps it’s because I don’t know anything about him, his day, his life, his issues that I can’t understand his perspective or be empathetic. I can’t be as forgiving because I haven’t seen the angel on his shoulder that balances out the fiend at his heel. Regardless, it was jarring and upsetting. For the rest of that day, I was pretty distraught. If even the Park Service can’t be nice in this city, then what chance do the rest of us have? This city. This soul-eating city.

Flip a penny over, and you see that same looming memorial turn to the simple picture of a great man. The other side of the coin is the humanity and kindness of strangers. Saturday night I went to an event called Art All Night. It was held at the old Wonder Bread factory, a huge converted warehouse with four levels of artwork and upwards of a thousand people, maybe more. Amazing. But when I left my wallet was missing. I thought for sure it had been stolen. I had absolutely no hope that I would ever see that wallet again. It was something I didn’t need during a difficult time of life, and I spent all the next day a beautiful sunny Sunday, laying in bed, wondering how I’d picked such an unforgiving place to call home.

I was wrong. On Monday I got an email from a women who found my wallet; the cash had been stolen, but that’s all. She found it discarded on the floor during the event, and returned it. I offered to pick her up food, flowers, give her money, but she wanted nothing in return. So small, but still extraordinary. It restored some of my faith in this city that has screwed me so many, many times. This city full of lawyers, and bros, and tea baggers, and nasty politicians. Somewhere in the heart of the beast, good people have burrowed, unseen except on the rare, glorious occasion. Sometimes people are good. For no reason at all. It reminded me to be a kind person, even in the face of jerks. It made me believe that maybe somewhere I earned good karma. It restored my faith in humanity a little bit. A little bit. But sometimes a little goes along way. That one email woke me out of my lethargy. It gave me something I really needed: a grain of hope. Thank you, Stranger.

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