It is the eve of my son’s second birthday, and I believe in the kindness of strangers. This past weekend, I loaded my pregnant self, Garrett, and his stroller aboard a bus bound for New York City. Long ago, I was an experienced subway rider, before marriage and kids softened my fiercely independent nature into the person I have become. As I pushed Garrett’s stroller to the edge of the long stairway into Canal Street Station, I paused, wondering how he and I could make it down alone. I considered offering money to one of the people standing on the street to help me, but no one was making eye contact. “Okay buddy, hold on tight!” I said, grabbing the front of the stroller to pull him down, one step at a time. On the second bounce, he gripped the tray, looking at me with fear in his eyes. “It’s OK, bud,” I soothed, “Let’s count the steps.” Bumping down one more caused him to wail: “No count steps, Mommy! No fall, boo-boo’s!”
I paused and looked behind me at the dozens of steps still visible before the stairway turned and disappeared under the sidewalk. My decision to travel alone in the city, seven months pregnant with a toddler, was beginning to seem foolish. In the midst of my doubt, I heard a man’s voice saying “Let me help you.” I turned around to see him shifting the newspaper he was carrying under his elbow and without missing a beat, lifting the stroller and continuing down the stairs.
At the bottom I thanked him and he hurried on his way. The next hallway led us to even more stairs. I bounced us down half a flight before a woman who was heading up turned around and carried us down the rest of the way, three flights in the opposite direction of where she was going.
For the rest of our adventure, I didn’t have to bounce him up or down a single step, as men and women of all ages, races, and styles swooped in to pick up the other side of the stroller and help us on our way. One young man with his iPod in his ears simply made eye contact. I smiled and nodded, he carried his side, and then waved goodbye as I offered the peace sign in thanks.
It wasn’t just one helpful person, last Saturday, but more than twenty who deepened my faith in human kindness, and got us to our destination on time. They did it automatically, without needing acknowledgement, or payment. Many helped without words, accepting our gratitude with a nod.
On the eve of my son’s second birthday, I believe that I’ve done a good thing by bringing him into this world. I believe that, despite our differences, people enjoy helping each other. As he gets older, I hope my son will be the kind of person who helps a stranger with a baby down a flight of stairs. I hope he will be the kind of person who makes someone else believe in the kindness of strangers.
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