Friday, November 19, 2010

Flashback Friday: Random acts of kindness in Beirut

Have you ever stopped to think about the nicest things people have ever done for you? Depending on the circumstances it doesn't even have to be something amazing to have made a big impact on you.

I'm thinking about this subject because last week at our semiannual regional church meeting, we ran into a friend we hadn't seen in years. The last time we saw him was in Beirut, Lebanon, back in 2005. He has since moved to Dubai. When I saw him again last week, I remembered how he was part of a tapestry of kindness shown to us every time we visited Beirut. Let me tell you about it.

We showed up at church one Sunday (yes, church is on Sunday in Beirut, which means if you timed it right you could attend church in the Middle East three times in one week), totally out of the blue. We didn't know anyone there. Nobody there knew us. We were just two random Americans living in neighboring Syria who happened to stop in at church in Beirut.

But somehow we started meeting people. Members of the congregation introduced themselves to us and made us feel welcome. At the end of the meeting, a few women who I had met only an hour or two before invited us to stay after to share the lunch they had brought. One of them worked as a domestic helper, and she had brought to church the plentiful leftovers from a party at her employer's house the night before. She heated up the food in the church building's small kitchen and we all ate together. I can still taste that food, not because it was extraordinarily delicious but because I remember thinking at the time that it was so uncommonly generous for those women to volunteer to share their windfall of gourmet food with two strangers at church. We finished eating, then we went on our way.

But it was not a lonely way because another person at church (the man we saw last week in Dubai) had invited us to stay at his house. So we headed home with him.

And that's not even all, because still other members of the congregation had invited us to meet them for ice cream that evening. So the new friend whose house we were staying at drove us to (and joined us at) that outing. We got to know a few more fellow Mormons and spent the time laughing and talking like the old friends we absolutely weren't.

We went to Beirut a few more times and it was always more of the same: people being dang nice to us. One family (hi Matthew) invited us over to their house after church for lunch and good company. I can still taste that food, too.

We continued to stay at our new friend's house every time we went to Beirut because he insisted. We ate his food and watched his movies and totally intruded unexpectedly on his life every once in a while but it was no big deal. And what I will always remember is that he took us shopping at Carrefour (for the first time), where I found some tortilla chips and other sundry pregnancy cravings that were not available in Syria at the time.

These people reached out to us and took care of us for no other reason than because...I'm not sure. We were strangers in Beirut who needed help? We were fellow Mormons? We were fresh blood in a sometimes lonely society? Whatever their reasons were, each act of kindness really touched my heart. Obviously I haven't forgotten these small, generous gestures of welcome and support from a few (former) strangers in Beirut.

What small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness do you still remember?


Carrie G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie said...

I'm not entirely sure why, but whenever someone asks a question like this about what nice things somebody else has done for me, I always think of how Ben knew my name.

I didn't have a crush on Ben and he never had a crush on me. He was just a boy in my ward. And when he first said hello at ward prayer I didn't even know him. I was new in the ward and, though he didn't know it, I was feeling absolutely miserable. I'm pretty sure if I had gone in to see a counselor at the time they would have told me I was depressed.

Bryan had just left on his mission and I was starting my sophomore year of college in a brand new apartment (well, old complex, but new to me), with new roommates, and a new ward. And it was my first time figuring out studying and classes without Bryan around to help. I was, as the Lewises say, "63." To the max.

Then I found myself at ward prayer one evening and Ben walked in and said, "Hi Katie."

It's a little ridiculous, but I'm getting all choked up now just thinking about it. There I was, in the height of my misery, and some kind (former) stranger remembered my name and let me know.

Somehow it made life better for me afterward. I didn't feel so shy about making friends in the ward. I didn't feel so much like I was surrounded by strangers. And even if everything else in my life was going badly, at least somebody had the heart to take note of me and remember my name.

It's the little things, the personal things, I think, that make the biggest difference.

JosephJ said...

Good point!

When we first came to this area "house hunting" just for the weekend, several members of the ward (where we now live) wanted to have us over for dinner. We already had plans, but even to this day, four years later, one of the first things I think of when considering these two families is that they invited us to dinner without ever knowing us.

THAT is the type of family I want to be when I grow up. :)

Suzanne Bubnash said...

We have been on both sides of stranger-kindness. What comes to mind now is a time when our kindness was oddly refused.

On a morning of what I knew would be a hectic day, I cooked dinner early and had a feeling I should make a double batch of enchiladas. Later that day we met a couple who was moving to our area. She was 8 months pregnant. They had spent several days looking at real estate, and were exhausted.

I invited them to dinner, I was prepared for guests. And he seemed about to say yes when she refused. And refused again--didn't want to trouble us. It was late afternoon, almost time to eat. My kids were getting antsy. Yet the couple stood in front of our house talking, then she had to sit down from being light-headed. The meal was ready, but she refused to "burden" us. It actually burdened us more because it was dinner time and we were all starving.

They did move to our neighborhood and I found out this woman would never accept help, like it was a black mark on her character or something. It made me sad, because allowing people to serve you is a wonderful boost for both parties. Especially when you really need it.

Camille said...

I've been thinking of doing a very similar post about the ward who has welcomed us in Portland. I'm amazed that people are willing to put in the effort when they know they may never see us again. I think a lot of the people who have been kind to us have been in similar situations before. It's made me want to be more open to helping others, regardless of our family makeup or circumstances. When you're alone you just want someone to spend time with, even if you don't have much in common at all.

Carrie G said...

One night in Korea after I had been traveling for 20+ hours alone with my toddler and we were almost home, she started to vomit. She threw up over everything- me, her, the bus, the get the idea. We got off the bus at our stop, but there was no way any taxi driver would have let us in his cab in our condition. It was midnight, 15 deg F, and we were sodden and alone. I couldn't carry the seat and my daughter and she was shivering too hard to walk. I was crying. Crying and freezing. Suddenly out of nowhere, a middle-aged Korean man in a business suit appeared, produced a napkin to wipe down the carseat, helped me change my daughter and wrapped her in a blanket, carried the nasty carseat to a taxi and sent us on our way without saying a single word. I can't even tell you how much I hope I can repay that kindness somewhere somehow to somebody. There are good people out there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much!


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