The Kindness Of Strangers

Daniel Ferri - Lombard, Illinois
As heard on NPR’s Morning Edition, December 5, 2005
Daniel Ferri

Middle school teacher Daniel Ferri’s newborn son suffered a stroke as Hurricane Katrina neared the Gulf coast. Ferri says the two disasters, one personal, one natural, shaped his belief in the kindness of strangers.

Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe in the kindness of strangers. I learned to believe this from a hurricane and a newborn baby boy.

Our son Owen was born just as Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast. Two days later, as Katrina neared landfall, Owen began suffering seizures; he’d had a stroke.

I didn’t follow the catastrophe on the Gulf Coast as closely as I might have, but those weeks taught me some things about catastrophe and about the kindness of strangers.

All catastrophes are personal. Some in the Gulf Coast sought survival; some sought to help others. Some prayed; some preyed upon others.

At the hospital, we watched our son Owen sleep. Despite the tubes dripping and the monitors beeping, he still slept his baby sleep. My wife asked for the pastor; I asked for the doctor. She prayed for him. I held the CAT scan up to the light and searched for answers.

No one can know what you will feel or fear in a time of need, but I learned that in this, the most difficult time of my life, the people our family depended upon most were people we had never met, people who we would likely never see again — strangers. We depended upon strangers, strangers who knew their duty was to help others. We depended upon the nurses who cared so well for our son, who cooed to him and caressed him, who watched me hold him through the night and never seemed to notice how ugly a man is when he cries. We depended upon the hostel that gave us a place to stay near the hospital, upon the members of my union who believe caring for our child’s health should not ruin us, upon the doctors and clerks and ambulance drivers. We depended upon a commitment made to helping others. This commitment is a web that holds us together in times of need.

By the time we took Owen home, the worst effects of Katrina were evident. I watched the images from the Gulf Coast, images of communities, lives and families whose fabric had been torn apart. I thought of that web of strangers that had embraced my family in our time of need, and that it is the most fortunate among us who are served best by it.

I can only hope this web will be strong enough, that it will be spun wide, that it will hold and care for many, that we can all depend upon the kindness of strangers.

Daniel Ferri says his work as a grave-digger, fork-lift driver, assembly line worker and potter helped him mature enough to be a teacher. The most important thing he hopes to bring to his sixth-grade students is kindness. The doctors caring for Ferri’s son, Owen, are encouraged by his progress.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.