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Dear Stranger

There have been many brief encounters in my life that I could have written about in this, the sixth letter of my 30-day


letter challenge. Some of them so fleeting that they almost seemed commonplace if it weren’t for the touching, unexpected kindnesses. The one who holds open the door at the bank, the one at the grocery store who exchanges a few words as we wait in a long line for a price check ahead of us (just passing the time, no judgment on the delay), or the one who stops to compliment my child on his patient behavior in a situation that could have warranted utter impatience. There have been longer encounters such as the elderly black woman who kept me company on the Crescent, running from New York to my hometown in North Carolina and then carrying her all the way to New Orleans to visit her family. And, of course, some of the encounters have not been quite so pleasant: the white haired man on a bench next to me at Disney World, his paunch barely covered by a loud tropical print shirt. He leaned toward me conspiratorially and expressed his utter dismay at the mixed race couple holding hands as they strolled the boardwalk, enjoying the balmy night and a couple of ice cream cones. I stared at him, uncomprehending, and then rose and gestured to my partner to come over and meet him—my female partner. We walked away satisfied that he’d had his share of insults to his sense of dignity for one night but wished him many more.

You, however, have turned up here recently and I feel the need to write about you again. You are the woman who works the desk at the outpatient surgical center where Li had her thyroid removed. You don’t know her. You don’t know me. You happened to answer the phone when the doctor called from the operating room and you called my name. You handed me the phone and politely looked away as he told me that she had cancer. Everything suddenly seemed to disappear and I felt myself go pale and cold. I heard, as though from far away, the surgeon asking my permission to go ahead and remove the right lobe as well. I knew it was the right thing to do. We’d discussed the options at length and she wouldn’t have wanted to go through this again. We also knew the potential complications, up to and including nerve damage, damage to the carotid artery, and…death. I thanked the doctor and handed the phone back. I don’t remember registering you at all. You were just some faceless, nameless woman behind a desk.

Except then you weren’t. You came out from behind the desk and there you were in the waiting room, bundling me in your big, brown arms. My head against your breast, my tears flowing freely. I’m sorry if I left a trail of snot across your cotton shirt. I think it was purple. You never said one word to me. Li’s mother was, blessedly, in the ladies room. I didn’t want her to see me so upset. When you let me go, you stroked my hair and told me you’d pray for us and that everything would be okay.

I never saw you or spoke to you again. I don’t know if you are still there, day after day. I don’t know if this is something you do on a daily basis—rescuing total strangers in their time of need. What I do know is that God put you in a special place because you have a heart of solid gold. You had no idea how I might react to you and yet you reached out and took me in your loving embrace. You have a calling, a ministry, as it were. You were an utter blessing to me and you gave me exactly the strength I needed to get through the next few hours until I could see for myself that Li was okay. Yes, she had cancer. She struggles with the side effects of the loss of her thyroid and an inability to keep her calcium and Vitamin D levels in check. She will probably need an iodine radiation treatment soon. We can handle all of that.

I didn’t know how to get through that one moment. I was overwhelmed and in shock. You came to me and comforted me and you put me back on track to do what was in front of me so that she and I could work through this together. I am forever grateful to you, stranger behind the desk, for that single moment in time. Thank you. And thank you.

From the scared woman who got bad news over the phone.