Dear Kind and Generous Strangers,

I want you to know that you matter. I wish that I knew all of your names. I wish I'd thought to ask. Regardless, I'm so thankful for your actions and your words. I needed some extra kindness these past few days and I'm so glad that I was able to learn a little bit more about life through each of you.

You see, last week, while walking back home from dinner, my boyfriend stopped me in the street and said he had a surprise for me. I'd suspected something was in the works, as all of our conversations about my birthday plans had been suspiciously vague, but I'd envisioned a quick day trip somewhere lovely and maybe a little bit of wine. As I strained to comprehend what he was telling me, I heard him say something about flying home so that I could celebrate with my family and all of the sudden I was crying and realizing that I was completely homesick and that that was exactly how I wanted to spend my birthday. So we packed our bags and headed to the airport. Nebraska or bust! Isn't that how the popular phrase goes?

Kind and generous strangers, this may come as a surprise, but did you know that it's almost never a good idea to fly a plane with a leaky engine? United Airlines informed us of this fact after we'd boarded our first flight and had already gotten cozy with the safety cards in our front seat pockets. Since our plane appeared to need a bit of maintenance, we were asked to exit, take a deep breath, and try not to kill one another. Once the news broke, a few lone United workers were left to deal with the re-booking issues for a flight full of tired and cranky people. After talking to everyone we could, it was decided that the best course of action was to get on a plane to Houston, spend the night there, and then attempt to fly stand-by to Omaha the following morning. (As luck would have it, the Astros were playing in Kansas City the very next day, and every flight to Omaha was booked solid, which once again supports my theory that baseball, does in fact, ruin everything.)

As we prepared to board a red-eye to Houston, my boyfriend approached the very nice woman who was scanning our boarding passes. He politely asked about our chances to get on a stand-by flight the following morning. The woman looked at us, smiled, and said "Stand-by? We can do better than that. Let me see what I can find out." And, ever-so-furiously, this kind woman began typing.

After searching through the computer system for a few minutes, she told us that she was going to attempt to "over-book" the flight. While she explained that this wasn't always acceptable, she said she could ask. The worst they could do was say no.  And then, these magic words: "I'm going to be here until 1 A.M. and I pray a whole lot. I promise I'm going to keep trying to get you on that flight. I'll keep checking and praying and I'll call you if anything changes." 

I looked at the plastic tag pinned on her blouse. Her name was Katie.

I told her that I, too, like to pray a whole lot and that oh, by the way, it's almost my birthday and hey, wouldn't it be neat if my handsome boyfriend and I could get home in time to celebrate? She laughed and assured us she would do her best. She wasn't kidding.

Three hours later, while standing in another long line at the Houston airport, our phone rang. It was Katie. She had successfully over-booked the flight. Exhausted and weary, we couldn't believe she'd actually followed through on her promise. I called it a birthday miracle; United Airlines called it a mishap. Regardless, Katie's kindness (and a whole lotta prayin') made it happen.

And then, as if that wasn't enough, there was the lovely man we met at the airport, who smiled and laughed and told us about his grandchildren. There was also the shuttle driver who made us giggle and helped us pretend that it wasn't almost 1 A.M. on a Thursday evening. And then, in the Omaha airport, there was the sweet older man working at the convenience store who, upon observing me purchase motion sickness medicine, patted my hand and told me everything would be alright. Such small offerings, but when stacked one upon another, helped to make the day a bit lighter and my spirit a bit softer.

And finally, yesterday, after the loveliest of weekends and a few days of work back under my belt, I left my phone on a city bus while escorting a group of blind students downtown. My heart sank when I realized what I'd done, as I figured there was no way I would ever be able to track it down. I called the bus company, explained what had happened, and waited for them to laugh off my questions about retrieving my fancy phone. But then, an amazing thing happened. I talked to an incredibly kind woman who listened to my confusing details and made an effort to truly help. She called a few bus drivers and tracked a few routes and within minutes, had located my phone. Such a small thing in the grand scheme, I know, but her kindness mattered. Gestures don't have to be large to matter deeply.

So, all of this is to say thank you. Thank you, kind and generous strangers, for taking the time to pause and listen. Thank you for taking the time to look me in the eye and empathize with the everyday struggles. Thank you for responding with kindness rather than with what is only required in your job description. You've reminded me that gestures have weight and that words are significant. Some days I forget. I forget to choose kindness and even more, I forget to look for it, around every corner and behind every counter. Today, wherever in the world you are, please know that you've helped me to remember.

All my best,