Last week, we wrote about sharing notes of appreciation with the new friends you’ve made this calendar year. But recently, I’ve been thinking about another kind of thank you—a thank you that I can’t exactly deliver, a thank you to the anonymous people who have made my year better but whose names and stories I may never know. This is a post for them.
Back in March, in between apartments, I spent a little over a week at an Airbnb which I showed up to around 9:00 one night with a suitcase, a backpack, and my 6’4” bearded boyfriend. Or at least, that was the intention. Turns out I was at the wrong address. I’m grateful that the woman who answered was gracious and kind about my blunder and I’m grateful that honest mistakes can turn into awkward stories and nothing more.
Later that spring, at a work event, I was attempting to balance eight coffees (spread across two of those cardboard holders). I was walking down the hotel hallway with shaky hands wondering why I thought this was a good idea, when a businessman walking to his own conference left his group of colleagues and came over to me, offering to walk a good 5 minutes out of his way to help me carry the drinks. He didn’t have to do that—dozens of people had passed me before him. But he did. And it made my morning (and definitely helped me avert a complete disaster).
In May, I passed out on the subway platform, a nightmare scenario for anyone living in or visiting New York City. I was helped by two bystanders and an MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) employee. I was able to connect with one of the bystanders afterward and express my gratitude and, because I came to on the platform next to the MTA employee, I was able to thank him as well. But the third person is one I have no way to contact but one I think about often with overwhelming appreciation.
I’ve spent much of summer and fall training for my second marathon and in the course of these runs, I’ve come to know a few familiar faces. Several times now, I’ve noticed a woman about my age running and each time we pass each other, we exchange a big smile and a wave—a welcome form of camaraderie from another woman runner. And then there’s the older man I’ve seen just as frequently who gives a respectful thumbs up and salute as he walks on the path where I do my interval speed training. I’m grateful for the subtle encouragement I get from these strangers and the way it seems to expand my sense of community.
One holiday cookout weekend, I was on a grocery store mission to secure corn on the cob for the party. As I dug through the haggard scraps of husks that remained, another woman came up and we started chatting. She told me her grandsons decided they wanted corn and so she too was on a Hail Mary trip. I looked at the one lousy ear of corn in my hands and at the display case in front of us. It didn’t take more than a moment to realize we’d be lucky to get a few nice pieces—something that certainly would go further for a couple toddlers than for a household of adults.
So there we stood in an empty produce section, digging through corn and shucking anything that seemed promising. In the end, we found barely enough for her cookout. She couldn’t stop thanking me for my help and for giving up my corn for her mission. I was thrilled to talk about growing up behind a cornfield and to have the opportunity to do something that felt like home and to help a stranger.
In thinking about moments of anonymous kindness in order to write this post, I thought about what it means to be the receiver and how those simple moments sometimes hold profound influence on our lives. And then I thought about when I’ve been able to do that for someone else—the case of corn for a toddler being more pressing than for a group of adults who would be just as pleased with grilled zucchini.
Which is to say. Sometimes a gesture will seem simple to you—a smile, a wave, an encouraging word. Or, it may feel obvious—anyone would have done the same in my shoes. But a well-timed kindness is never wasted and can have a sincere impact on someone’s day, year, or even life.
Thank you for all the anonymous good you have put into the world this year. It may have gone un-thanked. But it’s hardly gone unnoticed.