The Kindness of (Not Quite) Strangers

My father often claimed to have lived near Tennessee Williams in his childhood.   His assertion doesn’t quite mesh with the facts, since my father was born in 1922, the year that Mr. Williams left St. Louis.  The apartment building   in which the Williams family lived, upon which Mr. Williams based scenes from The Glass Menagerie, sits just over a mile from the block on which sat my father’s boyhood home.  The latter location became the site of the Chancery office of the St. Louis Diocese, a fact which I find enormously ironic for infinite reasons.

I feel kinship with two of Mr. Williams’ anguished heroines, Laura from Menagerie and Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire.  Laura tenderly stumbles through an unfortunate misunderstanding with an intended gentleman caller.  The play’s end sees her standing before a candelabra, leaning to extinguish both flame and any hope of happiness.  From the wings, her wandering brother tells her to “blow out your candles, Laura. . . For nowadays, the world is lit by lightening”.

Blanche struggles with a madness born of unrequited longing for what she perceives as normalcy.  When the psychiatric team comes to usher  her away, she thanks them, remarking that she has always depended upon the kindness of strangers.  I cry every time.

Each day, I stop at the Park kiosk for mail and packages. The manager, Kim, hoists them out the door and onto my back seat.  She does not need to do so; it’s not her job.  But she follows a heart compelled toward goodness.  If I pull into my parking space when my nearest neighbors have gone walking, one of them often calls out to see if I need help.  At community events, I park my car near the clubhouse, and someone instantly  steps outside to carry my bags.

These people have their own lives and obligations.  We’re neighbors, not kin; though some of us have personal interaction enough to call each other “friend”. For the most part, though, I go for days on end without a visitor, and no one here owes me anything.  Yet if I had a problem with my house, I wouldn’t have to step farther than fifty yards to find someone willing to come to my assistance.

I don’t yearn for the cold and snow.  I’ve grown accustomed to the quiet of the Delta, with its night air broken only by the hoot of the great horned owl.  Though I never thought of myself as anything but a city girl, I certainly do not long for the smell of commerce or the blare of traffic.  I do miss my art space, and the potential that my friend Brenda will come briskly knocking at my door on her way home from work.  But the rhythm here falls upon my shoulders like an old familiar sweater.  The kindness of (not quite) strangers rises to sustain me when uncertainty threatens my calm.

It’s the sixth day of the sixty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



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