Last week, an elderly stranger, perhaps in her late 70’s or 80’s, held my hand.
A few friends and I made the last-minute decision to attend a baseball game and purchased the cheapest tickets we could find. With seats so high up in the stadium, there was no question that we were there for laughter and junk food, rather than the game itself. It was the end of a long workday, and we sat in a clump towards the end of a row, which, of course, required us to stand every time someone in the inner seats needed to get up. After an hour and a half, I grew tired of standing whenever a neighbor needed to exit and started to pull my legs up the side or squeeze myself into a ball on the seat.
Then, a family needed to leave– a husband, a wife, their two kids, grandpa and grandma filed out, in that order. I couldn’t see that the elderly grandparents were struggling to walk past until it was too late to stand up. The grandmother made eye contact with me, and I gave her my best contrite smile and politely waved while I tried to pull myself smaller into the seat to allow her husband to pass by.
The elderly lady gave a big, sweet smile, grabbed my hand, squeezed it and used it to steady herself as she walked past.
Her touch startled me. And it stirred up a very warm and comforting feeling– the kind you get when you open a hand-written letter from an old friend or when a parent gives you a big hug that makes you feel like a kid again. I don’t know if it was her vulnerability, the tenderness of her touch or the fact that she was a stranger with every right to be annoyed at my laziness, but her smile and her touch, as simple and gentle as they were, made me feel loved. By a complete stranger.
Which made me think: why can’t I do that? Why can’t I genuinely smile at strangers as if they were a dear friend? If a stranger is handing something to me– say, a dropped item on the sidewalk or a plate of food at a restaurant– what do I have to lose by taking his or her hand to thank them?
When I took a psychology class in college, I recall my professor sharing with us the story of a person who committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. The suicide victim supposedly left behind a note saying: “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.” It suddenly makes perfect sense to me now, how a smile or touch could make a stranger feel so loved. And I don’t even consider myself unhappy; imagine how much more of a difference a small act of love would make to someone having a rough day.
Maybe I don’t have the inherent charm and warmth of an 80-year-old grandmother, but I hope to pass on her random acts of love. After all, you never know who could use a smile.