When strangers become your people

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We all have our people, the tribe of folks providing a safety net of security so that we can take courageous leaps that would otherwise paralyze us in fear. These are the same faces that breathe encouragement into us when we are broken and joyously celebrate with us in our highs.

We can live life more fully because of the support of our people.

This weekend I had the opportunity of attending the Allume writer’s conference in South Carolina. On my way home, I stopped through Atlanta for a night with my sister’s family.I love (cried through) this story about complete strangers who come together to become this 78 year old woman's people. | the House of Hendrix

As I waited at the Marta station this morning to take a train to the airport, I noticed an elderly woman standing uncomfortably, hunched over, clutching her bag as if somebody were going to grab it and run. Her acute self-awareness clearly communicated this was her first and last Marta trip to the airport.Story of people coming together on the Marta

In an effort to put her at ease, I engaged in small talk about my three children. Her flight was not for another 6 hours, but she worried about this trip to the airport, a ride her children had assured her was a simple process.

The direct train to the airport never arrived. I explained that we needed to hop on a different line and switch trains, but not to worry because we were going to do this together. This overwhelmed her. She did not yet trust me, but realized what we both knew…I was her best option. She had no people.

We rolled our bags onto the train to get situated. As the train jerked into gear, the next few minutes felt like slow motion. My new friend had such a death grip on her bags, she had forgotten to hold on. Her 78-year-old self went flying through the cabin. Several of us attempted to break her fall but failed. She went down…hard. She yelled in panic. Bags scattered. We all jumped to her aid.

A homeless, toothless man locked eyes with me before speaking,

“Ma’am, I may be dirty, but I’m honest. I’ll get your bags, and you help her. She don’t want me touching her.”

I saw straight into his kind heart wishing for a different conversation I knew we had no time to have.

A teenage punk previously entranced by the music on his headphones turned out to be a medic-in-training and assessed her for injuries before two construction workers lifted her to a seat.

As the homeless man gathered our bags and purses, he guarded them with great pride. A sweaty runner who had just finished a 5k offered up her water as I rubbed our shaken friend’s back.

Hips were thankfully not broken, but her spirit was. Embarrassment now trumped her trepidation over this adventure. We surrounded her with reassurance and comfort, little of which was received. The construction workers made some cute jokes to ease her tension before everybody went back to their seats.

I sat in the next row offering her enough space to recover alone, but close enough to jump to any need.

As her head leaned onto the train window, her eyes shut. I quietly prayed. When her eyes opened, tears poured down from underneath her wire-rimmed glasses falling onto the gray shawl draped across her shoulders. Her pale skin was still void of any color. Her hands shook. I understood the recovery was temporary. I asked,

“Is there anybody I can call for you?”

She responded in a whisper.

“They said this would be easy. But it’s not. Unexpected things happen that change everything. This is too hard for me.”

In that moment, my eyes filled with tears. I understood exactly how she felt. She’s right. It’s hard. All of it. So many times when it’s supposed to be easy…it isn’t.

Just before exiting the train, a businessman sensitive to her embarrassment gave her a wink.

I didn’t see a thing, Beautiful.”

A little color reappeared in her cheeks. Each person in our group spoke to her before exiting, and with each comment her breathing deepened and confidence reestablished. But it was the homeless man at the second to last stop that got me. He looked at her and simply said, “Ma’am” and then gave her a nod.

With tremendous grace and gentleness she uttered,

Thank you Sir for helping me with my bags today.”

And she offered him her hand. He looked at me as if for permission to accept, and I smiled. He shook her hand, a physical touch meaning more to him than she understood. As he turned to leave, he stood taller…exiting the train with a greater sense of dignity than when he arrived.

Seven people entered a train this morning from very different walks of life and in a matter of moments became a team with one purpose, to support a 78-year-old woman we had never met. We became her people, even if just for a train ride.

Sometimes our people look different than we imagine.

Sometimes they are only in our life for a train ride.

But we need them to get us through the unexpected.

Today I am grateful for my people, both the ones that support me in my daily walk and the ones God provides simply for those unexpected moments when it’s just too difficult to stand on my own.

Allison

This article has been featured on The Bert Show, a syndicated radio morning show,  which you can listen to the emotional segment here, as well as on Ann Voscamp’s blog in her multivitamins for the soul feature.

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131 thoughts on “When strangers become your people

  1. This was so touching. I am struggling with church & God right now and I am in tears. I think I really needed to read this. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for writing this. It is good to be reminded that we help others in so many ways. You should send this in to be published…more people need to hear the good.

  3. Thank you for sharing. This reminded me of when my 73 year old mother and I traveled to Italy. My mother had a cardiac issue 2 weeks prior to our trip. Unfortunately my mother had a very hard time keeping up with the tour group and missed some of the key spots. A couple of men in the group always had my mothers arm. Some of the men often took turns helping her…. They were her angels. They became “our people”.
    Thank you
    Dena Whitener

    • What a great example Dena! Those men were her people which completely changed the experience for her. My favorite part was the men didn’t have to do that. They just did. May are hearts never harden.

  4. I am not sure if God entrusts you with such amazing encounters because he knows you will be faithful or if you just have lovely eyes to see the to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Can’t wait to share this over dinner with my family!

  5. I loved reading this. It reminds me of so many times in my life. Faces with no names attached who impacted my life and selflessly shared a piece of life with me.

  6. This is a beautiful reflection. Made me laugh and had tears running down my face. Thank you for sharing and reminding us how kind people can be. Fantastic start to my day!

  7. What a great post, Allison! It went straight from words, right to the heart. That is not an easy thing to do. Have you written a book? Or are you considering doing that? As a fellow writer, I really appreciate what you write. Just sayin’.

  8. Ally…thanks so much. I read it twice and wept both times. God has me in a place where I need my people and I’ve isolated myself so much I don’t really have any people. I ran into someone the other day who I opened up my heart to…all the while thinking “is this okay”? “am i supposed to share with her”. Thankfully you were there to help the woman and give her comfort along with the homeless man. I know that you touched his heart too. Thanks for being the hands and feet of Christ and showing us all what that looks like even on MARTA. Much love to you!

  9. Please check out the Homeless Jesus statue and it’s artist that was recently dedicated at bishop ready high school. bishop Campbell of columbus, Ohio was in attendance.

  10. Stories like this renew our faith in the human spirit! I’m glad you were there at the right time. Everything happens for a reason and all of you were there in that moment for that beautiful old woman and to give that homeless man back some special he needed as well!

  11. Allison I love reading your blogs because each one has touched me. I even have my 12 year old daughter read them. Hoping that she will learn something from them because I have. Keep writing and thank you!

  12. I am at work and this is the first email I opened – as I read about your experience, my eyes overflowed with tears. I am forwarding this heartwarming story to all of my “people”, hoping that perhaps a simple gesture of kindness will spur on another, and another. I am often criticized for speaking to strangers or freely helping others by my family, but I know with each interaction, that I have touched someone’s heart or made their lives better, if even for just a brief moment of time. Thanks for sharing:)

  13. I don’t normally subscribe to any bloggers but I came across yours as I was researching for my daughters birthday party ideas last summer. I was moved by your expression, faith and vurnerbility. So I did something I’ve never done. I subscribed! Since then as I scrolled through my jam packed emails I usually click and delete even before I open most of them. I must say though- when I see yours I let it linger in my box and wait for a moment where I can sit with cup a tea and read and connect with the world you see and feel through your eyes. It’s lovely. God has gifted you with your eloquent expressions and I am happy to be the recipient of that gift and joy! As always I was encourage by the story . Thanks Allison!

    • Your words are incredibly generous and really touched that vulnerable part of me that sometimes feels exposed in my writing. I can think of no greater compliment than letting my post linger for a quiet moment. I am encouraged by your sharing that. I wish I could sit down with a cup of tea with you and just chat. Thank you again.

  14. Over the past ten years there have been so many strangers that became my people I call them my army of angels I battled cancer and I won but along the way I meet many strangers that became my people ,although I am a Registered Nurse the fear of what I was battling overtook me but my people strangers and friends held me up in 2008 my 18 year old granddaughter went to live in her heavenly Fathers home so many loving strangers became my people I have been so blessed remember a smile a silent prayer sometimes for someone you meet that has that look of despair may be just what they need

  15. What a great story, and you told it with such beauty and grace for all involved. I was once able to help another Mom on a flight who was traveling with two small children. The baby was crying, and the toddler was complaining loudly that he needed to go to the bathroom. I told the Mom that I also had a toddler about the same age, and I would help him if she would let me. She did, and I was happy to be “her people” for that moment.

  16. Beautiful story… this was read on Q100 radio this morning and I cried on the way to work and cried reading it again. Just curious, where was she going? Was she moving to be with family?

  17. Allison, I heard this on the Bert show this morning and was in tears as I drove my children to school. One of my 9 yo twins asked me about it as we walked into the school and told him sometimes you are in the right place to help someone and that is what life is about. He said, she was so nice to help that lady and I hope I can do that someday too. So sweet…

  18. A few weeks ago, during Sunday dinner, my 10 year old nephew was growing weary of his family and our conversation. He requested to be excused, and while gathering his plate and utensils, abruptly stopped and asked, “When will I have opportunity to meet my people?” All I could do was look at him and say, “This is it buddy. You’re looking at us!”

    I’ve forwarded your blog to my sister so she can share it with my nephew. I’m sure he will appreciate it, and it will provide my sister a teachable moment. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  19. Allison, thank you for sharing such a sweet story. I’ve lived in Atlanta 20 years, so I get how some people feel about using MARTA (where the older lady was coming from). I feel such a sense of pride in those who stepped up to help you be her people. Southern Hospitality… maybe harder to find, but it still exists. Hope you enjoyed your visit.

  20. i’ll be the fourth Jenn to comment on this post. i live in the northern suburbs of ATL and have been on Marta. i’ve experienced just a twinge of what the elderly lady you describe experienced full blown. i want to teach others in my sphere of influence to be just like you (which means they’ll be just like Jesus, right?). PLEASE keep doing what you’re doing and writing about it!

  21. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story. You were all exactly who she needed that day and what a blessing it was for everyone involved and everyone who reads this. God Bless!

  22. Allison, We watch the news each night, read the papers, etc and it is one awful story after another, sickness, tragedy, and pure evil. This was so beautiful to read and such a nice reminder that there are still good people in the world who are willing to stop & help a complete stranger.

    Your smile is just as bright and as beautiful as I remember it from your days at Smith Barney! I miss seeing you around the office… but love keeping up with you & your family through your blog :)

    Keep up the great job of spreading kind words and joyful messages. XOXO

  23. This was a wonderfully written story. I could picture the entire event unfolding and my heart was filled with joy at how each person brought some part of themselves to this experience. There are no coincidences… it’s just God acting anonymously. Blessings to you and “your people”.

  24. I’m in tears … I have been that lady on the train only a bit younger and with my special needs son trying to figure out how I am going to manage to handle him and find my way to where I need to be. I know that overwhelming feeling. Blessing on you and the rest who where able to help this woman find her way and keep her dignity. Beautiful story of how God uses others to bless.

  25. I don’t know you but evidently some of my people do. .one of my people posted this on Facebook so I thought I would read it. .that was amazing. .only problem I had with it was I’m the biggest guy on the job site right now getting all choked up so I had to walk outside. .it was worth it!

  26. I. just spent two days trying to find you,I usually listen to mostly christian stations, was tired fell asleep and hadn’t changed the station.That morning there you were!I am 70 years old and I so could relate to her story,I had a similar experience when travelling from Atlanta to New Jersey. I had to find you on facebook,so I can read this at church to the congregation at a upcoming event!It’s truly inspirational! Oh,I was crying before she was halfway into the story.I will be listening to you from now on along with my christian stations.

  27. I absolutely love this! Bawled all the way to work as it was read on the radio. We all come from different places with different stories. We should relsih in any opportunity we get to be someone’s “person”….even if just for a moment in time.

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  29. Absolutely hot tears falling. Great life was lived that day. And great story telling too. Thank your for being faithful to write it down. Well done, you!

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  31. Tears pour from my eyes as I remember “my people”…Nurses and PAs… Respiratory Therapists and cafeteria ladies and chaplains… All the people who I now consider family that took care of my Dad {and I} when he was in the hospital and then at my home on hospice with lung cancer. It was almost 4 years ago and it still seems like yesterday. I remember the nurse, Pat, who came in Dad’s room at 3am on her rounds and seeing my dad awake asked him if he needed anything. He stretched out his hand and said, “How ’bout some company?” and she pulled up the chair, took his hand and talked with him quietly. I remember “Judy, Judy, Judy” settling him back into a room on the oncology unit after a week at home for Christmas…and Nikki, a most special nurse who was Dad’s favorite. I remember Wava, the salty older nurse who took me by the shoulders, took me in the hallway and shored me up as I began to panic when I took Dad home the first time with instructions so long and foreign they might as well been in Latin. Beth and Grace, Dad’s hospice nurses, who did everything possible to make Dad comfortable and at peace until he breathed his last the morning of February 28th, 2010.
    They all are My People, and I will be forever thankful for the love, kindness and compassion they showed to my dad, to me, and to my family.

    • Beth, there is such beauty in your words. The nurses, the therapists, and YOU…all coming together to radiate love to your father in his final stage of life. I think God places us in each others lives with specific purpose, even if we don’t see it until later. He gives us people at those moments when we can’t do it on our own. Your people. Your dad’s people. Simply beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

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  33. Such a beautiful story.

    I would love to see this Godly kindness exhibited everyday in rich America where so many people go to bed hungry, homeless, shamed or afraid.

  34. Wow. Wow! WOW! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story! Thank you for seeing God in all those people around you. I’m not sure I could have been as open.

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