Fate is a funny thing. Things happen and it's no mystery that people come in and out of our lives, all seemingly for a reason. Human connections can be absolutely life-changing. These stories are about real-life encounters with strangers. They are surreal, heartbreaking, and bolstering. Buckle up, because they are bound to bring a tear to your eye.
I was in Afghanistan. On patrol, we randomly started getting fired at. One of the locals was with his boy at this stall. They both crouched, and the father covered the boy with a tablecloth. I couldn't see the shooter from my position and randomly made eye contact with the father. His face underwent a chilling transformation. He had a serious look on his face, and then it switched to a ferocious glare.
He went and pulled out an AK from under his stall. I honestly was about to take him out because I thought he was going to try and kill me. He stood up and went absolute berserk on these two shooters. When he ran dry, he just sighed. It was so quiet. I went up to the building the snipers were in, and they were definitely done. I went back down and wanted to shake his hand and talk to him, but he and his son were gone. I never saw them again.
One year, around Christmas time, I was standing in the security line at the airport. There was an old guy who was quite rotund with glasses and a beard who had a red sweater on. A girl who was probably about five or six turned to her mom and said, "Look, it's Santa!!" Her young mom was mortified and turned beet-red. The guy bent down and asked the girl what her name was.
The girl, flushed with excitement, told him her name. The man said, "And what do you want for Christmas?" The little girl replied, "For my dad to come back from the Army." At that point, the mom started to cry. The guy said, "I can't make any promises, but I'll see what I can do." The girl goes, "It's ok, Santa," and hugged him. The mom mouthed, “Thank you,” and the guy gave a smile and nodded. I teared up a bit. It helped me realize how great people can be.
I was stopping through Portugal for a few days on the way home from a backpacking trip through the Basque country. A friend decided to take me to an island right off the coast. The island itself seemed to be a common tourist destination, as there were people from all over the world getting off boats and swimming around the dock.
There was a place you could hike to that hosted thousands of seagull nests, but along the southern edge of the island was an old fort with a stone bridge that stood about 25 feet off the water. There was a girl I had a thing for with us, and when she saw people jumping off of it, she asked if anyone else would do it. I said. “Of course, I would!” But there was only one problem.
I had a dreadful fear of heights. So, I got up on top of this bridge and stood there for about 45 minutes, just staring off the edge, trying to get myself to jump. People from every corner of the globe would come up, cheer me on, and then leave disappointed. The girl wasn't even really paying attention to me anymore, but the struggle had become much more than that for me. I was going to overcome my fear.
Just as I was about to give up, an old man came along who was the living, breathing embodiment of Ernest Hemingway—the beard, the serious look, even the belly. Were it not for his Portuguese accent, he could have easily passed for Hemingway. He said, "I do not believe you are going to jump." I was baffled. Everyone up to that point had told me I could do it. I asked, "What?"
He said, "You won't. Here," and he reached down and plucked an old pebble off the bridge. He said, "Keep this. You'll look at it and remember the day you didn't jump." I took the pebble from him and looked at it. He shook his head at me. Just then, I don’t know what came over me. I just shouted, "Forget that!" and threw it at the water as I jumped from the bridge.
The man stood there laughing in this deep, jolly tone. Another man who had been watching the entire time helped pull me out of the water and offered to buy me a beer. As I was standing there, with all of what had just happened sinking in, Hemingway-guy came down the steps to the water's edge and handed me another rock. He said, "You'll remember this one as the day you jumped."
I pulled into the ER with my three-year-old daughter, who was turning blue from an asthma attack. I was frantic and thought she wasn’t going to make it. The parking lot attendant came over to tell me the lot was full, saw my daughter, ripped open the door of my van, and pulled her out of her car seat. He told me to put the car in park and follow him.
He ran with my blue, non-responsive daughter into the ER, yelling, "She's not breathing!" They hooked her up to oxygen set me up with an asthma specialist, and she's been fine ever since. I learned that day never to underestimate the importance of someone's role in life. That parking lot attendant had just as much to do with saving my daughter's life as the doctors and nurses in the ER.
There was a guy outside a gas station asking for money in my hometown, which was not common in my area. For some reason, I just said “whatever” and gave him $20. About a year or so after, I got arrested and spent four days in the county pen and had to go to gen pop. Others warned me to watch my back. I was young and flipping out.
I found out that some guy ran the block I would be in for the next couple of days. I thought I had better pay him off with a few ramen or something to stay out of trouble. When I went in, he instantly recognized me, even though I didn't remember him. It was the most surreal moment in my life. It was the guy I gave the $20 to. He explained to me his gratitude for that night and took it upon himself to make sure I was well taken care of while inside.
I used to work at a restaurant. Whenever there was a problem, the managers would blame the servers. On Mother's Day, it was significantly busier than other nights. One year, I had a family come in. I quickly greeted them, got their soft drinks, water, appetizer order, and bread, and took their cocktail order. I put it all in and moved on to take care of other guests.
Even when seated, you could see the bar area from the whole dining room. So, I kept looking up, but there were no drinks. The restaurant was so busy that the bar was taking tables as well. When the manager asked my table how they were doing, they MENTIONED, not complained, but mentioned they needed their drinks. The manager got angry and chewed me out while the table watched.
After I came back with the drinks visibly upset, they asked, "Did your manager just yell at you?" This took me by surprise, to which I said, "Well, he talked to me. It's alright, though.” The woman cut me off and said, "Bring your manager over here, like, stop him whatever it is he is doing and walk with him over here! NOW!" So I did. This lady got my revenge for me.
When I brought him over, she said, "This young man is doing an excellent job, and we could see from here that our drinks were not ready at the bar, so we know it is not on him. We want you to apologize to him for taking it out on him!" I turned to my manager with a smirk and a surprised expression. She left a nice comment card and tipped me 25% when they paid.
I bumped into the family later, and they took my number down. We stayed in touch, and I would update them anytime I changed restaurants so they could follow me.
When I was a kid, I was pretty obsessed with trains and train tracks and had several friends who shared the same passion. We hung out on the tracks near where I grew up constantly, and as we got older, it became the standard place to drink, smoke weed, and generally be 18-year-old hoodlums. Eventually, we got the courage to actually ride a train.
So, one day, we went up there with a backpack full of booze, waited for a train to stop, hopped into an open coal car, and were on it for about four hours until it stopped in Chicago. We caught a cab home. It went nice and smooth and was an epic adventure. Now, the stage was set for another try; we just weren't sure when.
A few months later, a friend of mine, a girl, and I were on the tracks, drinking and screwing around, when a train stopped. My friend and I started talking about how we rode one out from the same spot not long ago and how fun it was. The girl got excited and wanted to try it—on that train. My friend was up for it, but I was not. We had been drinking for a while, and I was hungry and thirsty, not to mention it was quite a bit colder out than it had been the last time we went.
They kept trying to convince me, I kept insisting it wasn’t a good idea, but I finally got talked into it on one condition—that I was able to walk to a soda machine and get us a few cans. I did not want to be stuck on the train without anything to drink. We pooled all of our money, and between us, it came to about a dollar and thirty cents.
I was able to get three cans of Dr. Pepper. The whole walk back, I was hoping the train would start moving so we wouldn't have to do this, but I was not that lucky. I made it back, and it was done. Immediately after we pried open a boxcar and climbed in, the train started moving. We were off. We were all 19 at the time, and none of us had a watch, cell phone, or money.
We had no food—just three cans of Dr. Pepper and nothing else. It was about 50 degrees out. We had on hoodies, but that was it. The car we were riding in was full of giant stacks of what seemed to be gas tanks for cars. They were stacked eight or so layers deep, separated by huge sheets of rigid plastic. They were broken down into eight or so compartments, which were about eight feet deep and separated by metal grating.
It was extremely loud because every time the train hit a bump, all of the cargo would bounce around. All of the metal grates would rattle, and that was on top of the rail and wind noise. At first, it was fun, but we soon sobered up and realized that it was COLD. We didn’t think it was a big deal because we thought we were headed to Chicago again. WRONG! We'd made a horrifying mistake.
We ended up being stuck in that train car for three nights and three days. There was no sleeping. There was no warmth. There was no food, and there was no water. The weather became cold immediately after we got on, and the train only stopped a few times in the middle of indistinguishable wooded areas, in the middle of the night, during freezing rain storms. Getting off would likely have meant death.
We were borderline hypothermic, starving, dehydrated, and exhausted from being awake for three days. I remember actually wishing for my mother as they do on television shows when terrible stuff happens. I didn't know that was actually a real thing, but it was. Realizing that I actually might not make it, and not having any way of knowing where we were, or even what time it was, was maddening.
When the third day rolled in, we all agreed that no matter what, we had to get off of the train the next time it stopped. It stopped around what felt like 4 PM or so, and we got off. We were at a cornfield, with nothing in sight in any direction. Luckily it was a sunny day and not as bitter cold as it had been, so we felt like we were ahead of the game. One of us noticed a speck moving on the horizon.
It was a car on a distant road, so we headed in that direction, hoping to find civilization. The train left as we walked. We eventually got to the road and could see that there appeared to be a town far down in the distance, so we headed that way. When we finally got there, it turned out to be the most backward place you can imagine. It had one store and a post office. Seeing that we had only had three cans of soda between us for the past three days, that little store was heaven.
I walked in to buy something, anything, to eat and drink because even though we were out of money, I had a credit card that I had just gotten. The tiny little store was nothing more than a converted porch on the front of an old house, but when I went to the front to pay, the guy gave me the most disheartening news: He couldn't take credit cards. I almost cried.
I went outside. Even though none of us were criminals, we decided that we had to just go in and take food, regardless of the consequences, because we were in bad shape. Just as we were about to go in and do it, an old woman that had just pulled up to the post office box station across the street noticed us and walked over to us. She said something to the effect of, "You kids look terrible, are you ok? You're not from around here, are you?"
My friend and I were well over six feet tall and gothed out, as was the girl. We were also filthy from the train ride and barely conscious from lack of sleep, food, and water, and must have looked like complete aliens in this bizarre little town. This lady was a little sweet old grandma. We told her what happened to us and asked her if she knew of anywhere we could walk that would accept credit cards for food because we were starving.
She told us that several miles down the road, there was a bigger town that would be able to help. We thanked her and started walking. Thirty seconds later, she pulled back up to us and told us she would give us a ride. Her car was nice and newer, and we were three of the dirtiest human beings on Earth. We thanked her profusely and got in.
She ended up taking us into the town, and when we asked her to just drop us off near a drinking fountain and a bus stop, she took us to Ponderosa, and together we had a massive feast. But that wasn't the most mind-blowing part. In the end, when I tried to buy the dinner for all of us, including her, she would not have it. She paid for everything. We were speechless.
Then, instead of taking us to a bus stop so we could catch a Greyhound back home, she took us to her house. She gave us a tour, showed us where the towels were, how to use the shower, how to use the TV, and showed us three spare bedrooms, each with freshly made beds that she just coincidentally happened to have. Then, she said, "You guys clean yourselves up, help yourselves to anything in the fridge you want, and I'll see you tomorrow. I have to go to work."
She left to work with three strangers that looked like street punk junkies standing in her living room. We couldn’t believe that any human being on the planet could have possibly been so nice. We all took showers and then immediately passed out for a solid 24 hours. We only woke up when she called us on her home line asking if bologna sandwiches or steak were ok for dinner. This woman was incredible.
We ended up staying there with her for a couple of days. She showed us around the town and took us to see the Mississippi River. My most vivid memory was of the four of us sitting around eating breakfast, watching Independence Day on VHS, and talking. She told us how she had a son who had gotten "a wild hair" and went on strange adventures. Maybe that was why she wanted to help us.
After several days she drove us to catch a bus back home. She tried to give us money, but we flat out refused. We had a 30-hour bus ride, which also turned out to be an adventure in itself. Strangely, the best story of human kindness in my life was intertwined with the same story that encompassed the worst suffering I had ever experienced.
About a year later, a letter showed up at my house. And when I read it, I just started bawling. It was from that woman's daughter. It turned out that she was dying while we were there with her. She passed just a few months after we left. Her daughter found a letter that my mother wrote to her after we got home, and I told her the story. She had kept the letter in a box with her important papers.
The daughter wrote us to thank us for giving her an incredible story about her mother. Apparently, she hadn't told anyone about us or what she had done for us. I still tear up thinking about it. As far as I was concerned, that woman saved all of our lives. She took us in and trusted us—three complete strangers in scary clothes. We were filthy, stinking, admitted hooligans off of a train, and she gave us her home and treated us like her children, and that was most likely the last big experience of her life.
I will never forget her.
When I was 25, I was homeless and living on the streets. I was standing in front of a Quick Stop asking for food. A man approached and took me into the store and got me some food, snacks, water, and a cup of coffee. We talked, and I learned he was into property investment. He offered me a little gig doing minor maintenance and yard work on these properties.
He let me shower and even spend the night in some of the vacant properties. From that opportunity, I was able to get a full-time job and rent a small one-bedroom house out in the country from him. He changed my life forever. I may not have had everything I wanted, but I was able to get everything I needed—all because a person had faith in me when I no longer had faith in myself.
I was a new nurse in a hospital facing drastic staff and budget cuts. I was in an elevator, heading home from a particularly long and grueling hospital shift. I was a stressed-out mess, had no social support at all, and if I had run into my supervisor that morning, I would have probably quit right then and there. Instead, I ran into one of the hospital chaplains—and she changed my life forever.
She dragged me down to her office and listened while I sobbed my heart out for a good 20 minutes. Among other things, she told me to take up a hobby that was completely out of my comfort zone but was still something I wanted to do. That idea got into my head, and a couple of days later, I walked into my first Tai Chi class. As a result, I became a happy, confident nurse.
Hospital politics still suck, but I'm good at my job and love my patients. I also box, sword fight, and spar with karate black-belts on a regular basis. I never intended to take things this far, but I love it, and I am so glad that chaplain was in that elevator that specific morning.
Two years after graduating from college, I drove cross country to break into the entertainment industry. I had spent my savings securing an apartment and was desperately looking for work. I got a gig with my best friend from college, driving golf carts backstage at the Coachella Music Festival. I ended up driving a gregarious 6'4" red-headed guy who was from Mississippi.
I made a joke about my cart, and his party hopped on, and we struck up a conversation. It turned out he had just founded a start-up with two tech/entertainment industry giants, and he offered me a job. When I started, there were ten of us. The company grew to over 190 employees with offices in London and New York. I have a career and a life I could have scarcely dreamed of.
When I was about 14, I had a terrible fight with my parents. I had a history of fighting with them ever since I could talk, but this time was different. It got physical. I was really upset, so I left the house and sat on a bench outside crying. A guy walked up to me and asked if I was ok. He asked what happened and offered me a smoke. I declined, and he basically held a monologue for an hour.
One of his friends stopped by and entered the conversation as well. He talked about his life, which was similar to mine, and his way of dealing with things. I hardly said ten words to him, but he changed my life. After that, I developed quite a good bond with my parents and didn’t really fight with them again. I've always wanted to thank him for just being there when I felt so alone, but I never saw him again.
I worked as a manager at a restaurant. Unfortunately, many guests felt as if they should be waited on hand and foot, especially families. Nine times out of ten, they would be the ones who would complain about their food taking forever, something minuscule, or ask something so ridiculous from me that it might as well have been comical.
I was close to my breaking point. We were understaffed, yet again, and everybody needed help. I was ready to find a new job but decided that I would finish my shift before I decided to quit. So, I went to help a server take some orders. Right away, at the first table I approached, I immediately noticed a husband and wife who had three children with them. Instant dread.
All I could picture was me heading to the table and having two demons and their little spawns ask me for food in the rudest way possible. While I was introducing myself, one of their younger daughters started holding my hand for no reason. I had no idea why she grabbed my hand or what I should have done about it, so I just kind of let it happen.
Her mom told her to stop but didn't explain anything to me. As strange as it was, it was a nice gesture, and it made me feel better. I finished taking their order without saying much and went to help some other guests. The more time that passed, the less upset I felt about work and the more I thought about that little girl. I could not figure out for the life of me why she held my hand and what she was trying to say to me.
I brought out their food about 15 minutes later and asked if they needed anything else. They all thanked me and said they were all set. The little girl did not say a single word to me, but she did try to hold my hand again. I didn't know if she could talk or not, but I did not want to ask. Her mom must have read my mind because she looked at me apologetically. She told me the difficult truth.
She explained that her daughter had autism and didn't understand how to communicate very well. I told her it was no problem, and it didn't bother me at all, but I had to ask what she was trying to tell me by holding my hand. Her mom smiled and said she saw that you were upset and decided to hold your hand because she always feels better when someone holds her hand. I almost cried.
I thanked both her and the little girl and spent the rest of the day with the biggest grin on my face. That one girl showed exactly how one small gesture could change someone's day by flipping mine around without even saying anything to me. She didn’t know it, but she stopped me from quitting my job just by being one of the nicest people I had ever met. It is because of her that I now spend every day appreciating the small things I see people do for one another.
When my son was six weeks old, he was extremely colicky, and I hadn't slept. We had tried everything from doctors, medication, changing my diet, introducing formula, white noise, darkness, bouncing, even rocking. Nothing was working. My husband, daughter, and I walked around the house in a daze constantly, rocking the baby and wearing headphones to cut the screaming.
So, we tried a chiropractor. It was our first visit, and of course, the baby was screaming. I was flustered, juggling the screaming baby while trying to fill out paperwork. I was worried about the fuss I was causing in a room full of happy, quiet children. The receptionist offered to hold him, which helped. Then, a couple with a baby in the waiting room looked at me and smiled.
The mom, who was my age, said, “I like your sweater.” I looked down at myself, wearing the same clothes I had for six weeks, covered in baby spit-up, interrupting an entire waiting room with a pissed screeching baby, and I started to cry. I just cried. Then the unexpected happened. This mom walked up to me and hugged me. No questions asked, no judgment.
This woman I had never met before just hugged me and hugged me while I sobbed. When I stopped crying, she said, “You're doing fine. He's going to be fine, and so are you. None of us mind that he's crying, I promise.” I had never been touched so deeply by someone else. She didn't know me, but she understood my embarrassment, hopelessness, and upset.
It didn't fix things, but it fundamentally changed how I felt that day.
I was 17 years old and sitting on a cross-country flight. For the first time ever, I decided to bring my laptop with me on the plane. I also brought a DVD of the Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team. As I was watching the documentary, I noticed the lady sitting next to me constantly peeking over from her book at my screen. The woman was in her late 30s, so it just seemed a bit odd. I paused the movie, and she pointed to the screen and asked if I liked airplanes.
I enthusiastically replied, "I love them!" It just so happened that she was a pilot and told me all about how to get my pilot's license. She told me about her flying adventures and became my first aviation friend. As soon as I got back home, I took my first flying lesson and eventually became a pilot. Her words of encouragement and wisdom brought me into the world of flying, which I used to only dream about.
After high school, I worked at a convenience store. I was a straight C student and had no direction in life. I was pretty happy just sitting around and watching TV. One night, I endured a nightmare come to life. A guy came in and held me up at knifepoint. After the authorities left, my boss made me finish my shift. I spent the rest of the night evaluating my life
That night, I decided that I would do everything in my power not to become the kind of person who robs a teenager working at a convenience store or the person who tries to dock the money taken from the store from the employee that got held up. I went ahead and enrolled in university and started getting straight A’s.
It was the summer of 2005, and I was working as a law intern at the Department of Justice. The city was in the middle of a heatwave, which wasn’t unusual, but it was particularly muggy. I had just left the office for the weekend and was headed for the train. As I was about to go down the escalator, I saw a lady who looked overheated and down on her luck.
I asked her if she was okay, and she explained that she didn't have any money to get on the metro and her three kids were at another stop. She explained she was just trying to get them all home. I asked if I could buy dinner for her and her children, and she graciously accepted. We walked to a nearby Subway, and she ordered four sandwiches. I insisted she add chips and two bottles of water for everyone.
I walked her back to the station and gave her my metro card. The card had more than enough on it to get her and her kids home and then some. As we parted ways, I told her I was truly sorry that I could not do more for her. With glassy eyes, she asked if my name was Michael. I thought that was kind of weird, but I politely explained that it wasn't my first name, but it was my middle name.
She told me her name, and she started to cry. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, "Nothing. The Lord told me He was going to send me an angel today, and I didn't believe Him, but He sent me you. Thank you, my angel." Then she walked away. Ever since that muggy August day, I have tried to be the person that woman thinks I am.
I was at a music festival to watch one of my favorite musicians. It was a sweltering day, and suddenly a cool breeze blew through the crowd. During one of the songs, the music hit me in a big way, and I started crying. I saw a girl, who happened to be a knockout, a few body lengths away from me, and she was crying too. Her face was red, and she was holding herself swaying side to side, just sobbing.
I've always been pretty bad at reading signs from girls. It's not like she was asking anyone to console her; she was just getting really into the music like I was. However, I felt drawn to her. So, I floated over to where she was standing. She was still swaying a little bit, but when she opened her eyes, we had this great moment of understanding.
It was one of those moments where you look at someone and feel an overwhelming connection to them. We hugged really tightly, which turned into dancing. By the end of it, we were laughing together and giggling. We didn't even say anything. We just kept dancing like two newlyweds. A friend of mine called my name and let me know that our group was leaving.
I looked back at her, and she gave me a tight-lipped nod as if to say, “It’s okay.” We smiled, I pecked her on the cheek, and I left. I didn't say a word or even get her name, but having that moment was all I needed. People float in and out of your life a lot, and it's important to just roll with the punches and let it happen. It keeps you alive.
When I was about six or seven, I was walking outside on my patio, tripped on a step going down, and fell forehead-first onto the stone. I had a huge welt right above my eye and couldn't stop crying. My mom and two-year-old brother were the only ones in the house, so my mom put us in the car and began to drive to the ER.
When we got there, she was having a difficult time getting us both inside because I kept crying and my brother kept wandering around the parking lot. A middle-aged man walking out saw what was happening, picked me up, and ran inside. He sat with me in the waiting room while my mom signed us in. I had no idea what was going on, and I was still in a lot of pain.
I never got to thank the man, but I'll remember his kindness for the rest of my life.
I was in a small, unfamiliar city, visiting a friend in college. It was the middle of winter and freezing out. My friend was running late to our meet-up point. I saw a few public benches around a small stone fire pit on the main street and took a seat. Apparently, that spot was pretty popular for drifters and homeless people, and soon, one took a seat next to me.
He asked me all about my life, where I was from, and where I was heading. I looked pretty scruffy and ratty, so I guess he must have taken me for some kind of hitchhiking punk. We talked for a while, and I bummed him some smokes. Then, I saw my friend across the street. I stood up to meet her and told the man I had to get going.
He said if I needed a place to stay, that he and some of his buddies had a little spot under a trestle where they kept a fire going all night. It changed the way I viewed homeless people. Never again did I feel uneasy around them. I even made a few acquaintances outside my grocery store downtown with some of the regulars who sit at the sidewalk tables outside.
I was in a little dive bar with some friends. There was a pretty cute girl with blue hair. I was watching her out of the corner of my eye. She was trying to ignore some drunken frat boy that was standing right next to me. The guy was getting louder and pushier. She finally lost her cool and turned around to take a swing at him, but instead nailed me right in the eye.
She broke my glasses and just about put me on the floor. It was one of the hardest hits I had ever taken. I'll never forget the look on her face. She stood there absolutely mortified, and the guy vanished. She got me a bag of ice and sat me down on the curb blubbering on about how sorry she was. I was laughing about it. As we were chatting, she told me she was from Chicago.
Oddly enough, I was about to leave for the Navy and would be spending a little over a year there. I got her info, and she agreed to buy me an apology drink in Chicago. A year later, we got married.
When I was 16, I would go to the park near my high school to run. One day, an older man was walking around the park and waved me down. He said he has seen me come every day like clockwork for the past couple of months and wanted to tell me to never give up being healthy. I had never thought about it before at that deep of a level. I was just training to be better for my senior year of football.
We talked for about 40 minutes, and then he asked me, "How old do you think I am?" He was old but not digging his grave by any means. I guessed 68. The truth was shocking—he was 89 years old. He came to the park every day and walked at least three miles. It was amazing and inspiring. I'll never forget him, and I hope he's still walking around that park.
All my life, I never thought that I would be a doctor, and never really wanted to be one either, until I was going home one night and came across a car accident. This guy, just out of nowhere, ran to the woman on the floor, started checking her out, and then he called for me to help him. I was the only one there, so I did. He did some CPR until the ambulance arrived.
It turned out he was a doctor and helped save her life. I spoke with him after, and he told me that I did well and should be a doctor. Nine years later, we were working at the same hospital.
A few years ago, I was in a bowling alley, and American Idol was on TV. I started to sing a song very casually, and the woman that owned the bowling alley told me I should sing barbershop. I took her advice and began to sing with the local chorus that she recommended. I loved every minute of singing with them. I formed a quartet and went to competitions.
However, I realized that I needed more of a challenge, so I took up opera training in hopes of attending opera school. It all had a butterfly effect.
There was a festival in the city I was visiting, so I went to check it out. There was a guy there who was missing part of his leg. Many of the teens and young adults were staring at or avoiding him. He dropped something, and a little kid, who was about five years old, walked over and picked it up for him, and they had a little chat. She asked point-blank why he didn't have a leg.
He made up a big story about fighting fantasy animals in a magic forest to save a princess. He then pointed to his wife and said she was the princess. They kept chatting. The wife slipped into the dollar store while they continued to talk. She snuck up behind the girl, placed a little tiara on her head, and said she was now the princess. I never saw a little girl so happy before.
It reminded me that there's so much good in the world.
When I was 16, and in high school, I was walking back to class from lunch eating an ice cream sandwich. I tossed the wrapper on the ground outside and didn't think anything of it. As I walked into class, I felt someone grab me by the arm. It was a kid that rode my bus, who came from a low-income family. His home wasn't in the best shape, his clothes weren't "cool," and he didn't have the best hygiene.
However, he didn't care about any of that. He was always very happy. He saw me litter, picked up the wrapper, and chased me down to hand it back to me. He wasn't rude or condescending about it. He just handed me the wrapper and said, "I think you dropped this, buddy." He patted me on the shoulder and walked off. In that instance, I realized I was just a selfish kid and that the universe was much bigger than I was.
We became friends. He didn't have cable, so I taped whatever I could off the TV for him. I got off the bus at his stop so kids wouldn't pick on him by yelling out the bus window. I would never have done any of these things if he hadn't chased me down to hand me the garbage I carelessly dropped on the ground. He taught me an invaluable lesson that day, and I'm eternally grateful for it. I also never littered again.
I was in the security line at the airport when I saw a woman speaking rather oddly until it clicked in my head that she was deaf. She was trying to tell the TSA people something, but she only knew sign language and really couldn't speak. Out of nowhere, this kid, who was about seven or eight, walked up to her and tapped her on the shoulder. Then, he shocked everyone.
He started doing sign language and explained to the security people what the woman was saying. After they thanked him for helping her, the deaf woman hugged the boy, and he went back to his mom and dad. It was a beautiful moment that has stuck with me.
I was behind bars for eight days and was alone for most of it. On the last day, I heard another inmate come into my cell. She was crying, so I asked her what was wrong. She told me how she had been brought in because she got into a fight with her boyfriend. After he had choked her unconscious multiple times, she called the authorities. He then went into the garage and came back with a black eye.
She told me her infant had also been taken away from her while she was locked up. She must have been no older than 22. She told me all about their unhealthy and violent relationship, and she cried for hours. I told her she had to get away for her safety and the safety of her child. She got to leave one hour before I did. We hugged and wished each other well.
She was religious and told me that she must have been brought in for a reason, to talk to me. I'm not religious, but I felt the same thing. Even though I didn't talk about myself, besides telling her that I had experienced what she experienced after our encounter, I felt a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose that I hadn't had in a long time or maybe ever.
I was having a miserable night. My wife and I had been arguing, so I went for a long walk. It was very late, and I found myself at a 24-hour grocery store. When I got to the checkout line, there were two women in front of me. The girl right in front of me looked like a young college student, and the woman ahead of her did not speak English. She had a coupon flyer in her hand and a bunch of baby food.
The woman running the register was trying to explain to her that her government assistance would only pay for certain baby food items, and she would have to pay for the rest. She didn’t understand and was very upset. I gathered that she didn’t have any money because she started to walk away, leaving the baby food.
I got the bagger to go bring her back, and I bought all of her baby food for her. It wasn't a lot— just under $40. The woman was in tears and very grateful. I doubt I changed her life, but she changed mine. It made me look at some of the things I was angry and upset about and realized they were not that important after all. My wife and I were lucky, and the issues we had were not life-threatening. I looked at my life from a renewed perspective after that.
I was taken into custody for a bench warrant I had forgotten about. I was put in a big cell waiting to be called. While in there, people talk. I heard some guys talking about some stuff from my old neighborhood. A cousin of mine had been gunned down a few years prior. As far as we knew, he wasn't in the neighborhood gang, but the shooting had gone unsolved.
I asked the guys if they knew my cousin. One of them made a face and asked me if I knew he was no longer alive. He then proceeded to tell me exactly what had happened, since he was there. He cleared up a lot of mystery that had caused our family pain. If I hadn't been there in that cell with that guy, we probably never would have known the truth. A tragic family mystery was finally solved.
When I was in 7th grade, I was sitting in the park next to my school, crying because of bullies. This totally gangsta-looking guy walked over to me and asked, "What's wrong little sister?" I told him about what the mean girls at school did that day and how worthless I felt. He gave me a 15-minute talk about how others' hurtful opinions are worth NOTHING, how kids at this age are so cruel, etc.
He ended it with, "You're strong. You have it in you. If you can survive this, you can survive practically anything." He continued to tell me, "It'll be so much better when you're an adult." It made my year and helped me feel so much better. I'll never forget him.
I found out that my mom had two years to live. It completely destroyed me, and going back to college was tough. I didn't know who to tell or how even to tell anyone. So, I kept it primarily to myself, which of course, made it worse. After a long day at work one day, I walked past a solicitor in the street. He was one of those people who tried to get you to donate monthly to a charity.
I have trouble saying no to people, so I got sucked in and didn't know how to get out politely. After about ten minutes of his spiel, he asked if I would donate. I, very honestly, said I couldn't commit to that because my family and financial situation were in jeopardy. He asked why and I just told him everything. I didn’t expect to be that open with a stranger, but he was wonderfully receptive.
He immediately gave me a huge hug. He told me he had recently lost his own mom and that he understood how scared I was. We talked about life, and it was one of the most rewarding conversations I'd had in a long time. I walked away feeling a lot better. I only got his first name, but I wish I could thank him more appropriately than just those hugs.
I was living in a country where a lot of low-wage jobs were held by foreign workers, and subtle discrimination would occur. One day we had a guy install something in the office. He didn't speak much English and just went about doing his job. At the end of the day, I went to check whether he was done with the installation. When he said yes, I thanked him and automatically shook his hand.
I didn't think much of it‚ but his reaction truly shook me. The smile and wonder that broke out on his face really moved me. It made me reflect on how I treat people and that I should honor people more with simple actions.
My family and I were about to cross a tolled bridge. We were several spaces behind the toll booth when we suddenly noticed that the booth attendant was waving people through and smiling without collecting the toll. When we came up to the booth, he explained that a woman several cars ahead of us paid for several of the cars’ tolls, including ours, and wanted to tell everyone, "You're beautiful."
It made our day. I was enthralled; it really changed how I looked at the world and how I felt I should act in it.
When I first started running, I couldn't jog a mile or even a quarter-mile. One day, I was jogging on a very popular trail near my campus and was dragging my feet, sweating like a pig, and wheezing like crazy. The seasoned runners would pass me by without so much of a glance, but I always remembered this one old man who slowed down to tell me, "Keep it up; you're almost there!"
His smile and encouragement are something I remember now every time I'm struggling during a workout. I became much healthier and fitter. One of my favorite things to do is offer kind words of encouragement to strangers that I see at the gym or anyone struggling on the jogging path. Exercise is easy—it's the motivation that's hard.
Every week for more than 25 years, I would meet my grandparents for dinner at the same restaurant. Recently, a homeless man came in and asked the server for a warm glass of water so he could warm up a bit. He said he wasn't trying to panhandle and was just cold. She came back with the manager, who scolded him for being there. I was horrified.
I plated him up some of my dish, took it to him, and said, "You're my guest now. Enjoy your dinner and warm up." The staff was in awe. He thanked me, ate faster than I've ever seen, and left. That experience always stayed with me.
When I was about 10, I had just split my lip in half with my tooth. I was waiting in the ER crying with an ice pack pressed to my face and was not a happy camper. A middle-aged scruffy man in a wheelchair just looked at me with the kindest expression and said, "Hang in there." It was such a simple thing, but as a scared kid, it meant SO much for a random stranger to say such a nice thing.
He probably had a lot more going on than I did, considering his wheelchair, but he still cared enough to try to help me.
I was at the grocery store when I came across the bakery aisle. Even though I was on a new diet, I bought three muffins and five large cookies. As I drove home, I stopped at a patch of grass near my apartment to let my dog out. I started to feel guilty about the sweets. I saw a woman waiting for the metro, or at least I thought so, and I grabbed the cookies and muffins from my trunk and asked if she would like them.
When I did, she looked up at me. She had been crying. She told me how she hadn’t eaten anything in three days. I felt horrible and also gave her $20. I realized how ridiculous it was for me to feel guilty about something so small as buying sweets, while all around you, maybe right next to you, someone can be suffering something more real than you can perceive, and most days, it goes unnoticed.
On my eighteenth birthday, my family and I were eating dinner in a fairly fancy restaurant. It was on a Friday, so it was pretty busy. Our server was very nice, but clearly, a little stressed by the number of customers. My mom had baked a lemon meringue pie and brought it with us. My family only finished about half of it, so we asked the server if she wanted the rest. She thanked us and took it back to the kitchen.
The pan came back about ten minutes later, completely empty. Our server looked me right in the eye and said, "Thank you so much, from me and the whole kitchen. You made our night so much better." I almost cried. It was the most sincere thank you I have ever received to this day. I still think about that lady and how many opportunities we don't take to be kind to each other.
I had gone on a mission trip with my church. We spent our nights in an area surrounded by small cliffs on top of hills. When we arrived, I went to investigate climbing the cliffs with some of my friends. I took my GoPro and started walking up the hill. After climbing up and over a little roof, I saw a girl and began talking to her. We became really good friends.
We were both sad to part but started writing to each other, chatting, and Skyping often. She became my best friend and the most important person in my life. We eventually started dating, I even moved to her city.
I was having a bad day and was traveling by bus from my friend's city back to mine. I had to transfer and ended up sitting next to a guy with a laptop. I don't know if he could tell that I was upset or not, but he asked me if I wanted to watch something with him. We ended up sharing headphones and watching Where the Wild Things Are. I was pretty shy back then, but if I could meet him again today, I would thank him for cheering me up.
I worked at Walgreens ringing people up. I had an older rugged-looking gentleman come in late one evening. He came up to my register with three or four toys and some denture cream. I assumed he was buying the toys for his grandkids and the denture cream for himself. The transaction went well until he realized he was short a few dollars.
He decided not to get the denture cream and only bought the toys. As I watched him walk towards the exit, my jaw literally DROPPED. I watched as he dropped the two bags of toys into the Toys for Tots donation box. I was speechless.
There was an elderly couple who lived in my apartment complex. Sometimes I would see them walking around together. The husband had no concept of what was going on. He couldn’t talk or do anything for himself anymore. The wife spent all of her time walking around with him, telling him stories about their lives and making sure he was warm on really cold days.
It made me realize the kind of love I want to have and what is really important in a life partner.
When I was working in retail, I met a lady. We were making small talk when she told me it was her 50th wedding anniversary. I asked her if she still loved her husband, and she said, "More than ever! We got married when we were 18, and although there have been times when I've wanted to get rid of him, I love him more than anyone. I'd do it all over again if I had to."
Those words just stuck with me. I didn’t see this often, and it was nice to hear about long-lasting love.
I was volunteering with an organization that brought clean water to underdeveloped areas. A 90-year old man broke down in my arms with tears of joy because he'd never had clean water in his life, and we gave that to him and his entire village. It showed me exactly what it meant to be alive and who I want to spend my life being. I continued helping to build clean water systems and spreading love because of that old man's gratitude.
On a trip to Japan, I was on a long train journey. There was an elderly woman sitting next to me who noticed I was becoming restless after sitting for such a long period of time. She promptly pulled out her purse and pulled out several square pieces of paper. She taught me how to do complex origami while completely ignoring our language barrier.
It felt like a heartfelt conversation, even though not a word was spoken. I'll never forget it.
I was having lunch and was seated with a stranger. We were both alone, so we began chatting. She told me she had taught herself computers enough to change careers. That lunch inspired me to quit my job as a fast-food manager and go to computer school. Two years after I finished, I was able to double my salary. I never looked back.
When I was a child, I wanted to be a paramedic. After high school, I went to school to become a firefighter by getting my Associates in Fire Science and becoming an EMT. The goal was to go to paramedic school on sponsorship from the fire department that I was doing my EMT ride-along with. I needed a few months' worth of hours on the rig to qualify, but the chief had already approved it. I was going to live my dream. But it turned into an actually horror story.
Three accidents within two weeks changed my life and my future. The first was a family that had been wiped out in an accident. The second was a father and son—the father still alive. The last was a family of five that got into a bad wreck. We rolled up, and the three kids were screaming for their parents. The kids walked away without a scratch, but the parents didn’t make it.
That was my last call and my last night as an EMT.
It was the first time I walked into the state correctional facility. I was being held without bail at only 19 years old, facing several felonies and misdemeanors, and was being held until my pretrial conference. I was only 130 pounds, so at intake, I was told how I was going to get messed with, and I should watch myself and my back. They gave me my bunk assignment.
I got into my cell ASAP, and before I could set my stuff down, my roomie was at the door. He told me not to step on his bed. About two minutes later, as I was sitting on a bare bed, my roomie walked in. The door shut, and he told me to hop down from my bed. I got down and was so scared. He introduced himself, explained why he was there, asked me my name and if I had ever been incarcerated before.
I told him I hadn’t. He gave me a few pieces of paper, a pen, and an envelope with a stamp on it and said, "You owe me nothing for this, but you owe your mom a letter. Sit and write her a heartfelt letter, and we will talk after." I cried so hard during that letter. After I was done, he explained what to expect and how to do things like making my bed to score extra food.
We shared a few candy bars, saltines, and KoolAid along with a few stories before he was moved two days later.
I was on the train after work, and I fell asleep. I missed my stop—and when I awoke, I made a worrisome discovery. I was ten miles away from my car. I slung my bag with my work computer over my shoulder and decided to walk back to my car. A minivan pulled up, and a guy told me that I was walking in a bad neighborhood. He asked me if I needed a ride. His wife and three kids were in the van.
I told him that I missed my stop, and he insisted that he had to give me a ride back to where my car was parked, saying, "It's too dangerous around here. You'll get robbed." He drove me back to my car and vehemently refused my offer of gas money. He said, "We were going here anyway." He ran a restaurant and asked that I come there sometime for some food.
It was a nice gesture, so I drove out to his restaurant a few days later. The food was awesome, and he came out and refused my payment. He said, "We're friends. Just tip your waitress. The food is on me." He restored my faith in humanity just because I fell asleep on the train and decided to walk home. I gave the waitress, who was his daughter, an $80 tip that night.
There was a man in front of me in line at an ATM who said, "WOAH!" He turned around to me with a smile, held up several hundred dollars in cash, and said, "Bank error in my favor!" Then, he started walking into the bank, and I said, "Wait, you're not gonna keep it?" His response shook me to the core. He said, "You are who you are in the darkness." I stopped lying after that.
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