Thursday, January 29, 2015

The daily news vs. the kindnesses of strangers

Virginia Bergman: Here I am, and life is good.
It's still a popular notion that in order to get along with folks, you avoid talking about politics and religion. I have to tell you, though, that I grew up in a household in which politics and religion were about the only topics ever discussed at our dinner table, around the heating stove in winter, or out in the garden during the growing season. And we listened to the news on the radio every hour on the hour. I still remember radio broadcast greats like Lowell Thomas and Gabriel Heatter.

Decades later, I still follow the news. I'm aware of the ISIS beheading of hostages; U.S. drone attacks on targeted "enemies" to be killed without trial as well as any innocents who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; and here at  home, racially tinged incidents of police brutality.

Friends and acquaintances oftentimes admit they no longer watch the news as it's too depressing. And speaking of religion, a few friends, who also tune into the news, are convinced that the human race has become so depraved the apocalypse is imminent; these same friends count themselves among those fortunate believers who will all be saved at the "end of time" when the rest of humanity self destructs.

I beg to differ. Even with its focus on violence at home and abroad, the daily news does not get me down, nor do I lose faith in humanity. I'll tell you why. I'm a senior with arthritic joints, and I get around with a cane, which is challenging at times, especially in St. Paul, Minnesota in January. Nevertheless, all I have to do to keep my spirits up is get out and about to keep a medical appointment at the Ft. Snelling VA Medical Center (I'm a female veteran of the U.S. Air Force), visit my favorite library with its cool coffee shop, or go to the supermarket.

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived early for my appointment for a check up at the VA Medical Center and found a handicapped parking space in the huge lot. I still had to walk quite a ways through some mud and slush. A veteran, who was headed out, met up with me and offered his arm. He accompanied me to the entrance, grabbed a wheel chair for me and took me to my first stop at the X-Ray department. After my appointment, a volunteer gave me a wheel chair ride to the exit, but explained he was unable to take me any further. At that exact moment, another veteran took over and delivered me to my car.

You think I wasn't in a good mood when I got home that day?

On another recent occasion, I went to the library to return a few books and check out a couple that I'd placed on hold. Just inside the door, a staff member at her desk greeted me, and I stopped to chat with her. "I can check your books in for you right here," she said. Then  - I kid you not - she got up from her desk, retrieved my next selections and checked them out for me. She saved me a lot of steps that afternoon. I wasn't ready to leave, though. Just as I put my things down at my favorite table in the coffee shop, an employee brought my cup of decaf with lots of cream and placed it before me. Now that's service.

Visits to the library, especially in winter, always cheer me. No sooner do I get out of my car in the handicapped slot when yet another perfect stranger comes along and advises me, "There are icy spots out here today, and I'm assisting you to the entrance."

The supermarket I frequent is huge, but I'm able to push a cart up and down the aisles and find the items I need. At check out, all I have to do is ask, and someone - usually a nice young fellow - packs up my groceries for me, accompanies me to the parking lot, and helps me unload it all in the trunk of my car.

I'm not one to keep quiet about the kindnesses I regularly receive from perfect strangers; I hope I don't bore my Facebook friends with my frequent status updates on my latest encounters at the Medical Center, library, supermarket, or wherever. 

Here's the thing, folks: I manage to stay informed on the news from around the world, while simultaneously remaining optimistic about the future of humankind. It all kind of reminds me of these words by Julian of Norwich (a 14th century mystic): “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

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