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Elizabeth Cook: ‘If that stranger only knew’

Christmas makes people do funny things — good things.

Two women who have been touched by the  kindness of strangers brought their stories to the Salisbury Post last week. In separate incidents, someone reached out to them unexpectedly, and now the women want to say thank you through the newspaper, since they didn’t know the names of these Christmas angels.

So here goes.

Our first story comes from a woman who signed her letter, “Elderly Shopper.” She was the victim of a scam once, she said, so she didn’t want to put her name in the paper.

Neatly dressed, the petite woman would not strike you as someone in need, exactly. But often what we need is something money cannot buy.

Acknowledgment that we exist. A sign of human kindness.

“As I was shopping in Aldi’s Wednesday, I passed a young mother with her small daughter in the shopping cart and I said hi to the little girl in pink,” the woman said in the letter she brought to the Post.

“Her mother said she had been blessed so much all week and wanted to share a blessing with someone, and she gave me a 20-dollar bill rolled up.

“I thanked her and said Merry Christmas but did not get her name. I hope she will continue to be blessed as she really blessed me.

“Again, thank you and God bless you.”

The second story arose Friday afternoon. At first I couldn’t tell where Lori Kepley’s story was going. She’d been having health problems and would soon find out if she had MS, she said. Trouble with her daughter weighed heavily on her mind, and she had been  struggling to take care of her twin granddaughters when their mother could not. One girl was being especially rebellious, even for a 16-year-old.

Lori ended up in a deep state of depression, she said. She wanted to be a good grandmother and have a positive impact on both girls, but nothing she said seemed to make a difference to the rebellious one.

While she and the other granddaughter were running errands last week, Lori said, she praised the girl and said how proud she was of her. They even talked about paying it forward, Lori said.

They stopped at Food Lion on Jake Alexander Boulevard to pick up some groceries. When Lori finished her shopping, she went back to her car, parked in a handicapped space.

She said she was struggling with her buggy when a man drove up in a white SUV and started calling out to her, “Ma’am! Ma’am! I have something I want to give you. I want to bless you.”

Lori figured she was about to receive an invitation to a church service or something like that. She accepted what the man had tucked in his hand and unfolded it to realize this stranger had just given her a $50 bill.

Fifty unexpected but much-needed dollars.

The man never got out of the car, and he was gone as quickly as he had appeared. She didn’t get his name.

“I was crying,” Lori said. “If that stranger only knew.”

She still can’t believe that the man gave her the money — or that his generosity touched her heart so deeply.

“It wasn’t the $50,” she said. “He saved my spirit, you know? … He basically saved my life, in a sense.”

Not that she was thinking about suicide, but she had been having a hard time making herself get out of bed in the mornings.

“He just took me out of that state I was in. … Tears were running down my cheeks.”

Tears of joy.

“It was like God was telling me, ‘Don’t give up. Get up.’”

She smiled all the rest of the day and all that night, she said. By Friday, she knew she needed to say thanks.

“I was sitting in the car thinking, you know, he needs to be recognized.”

So she came to the Post to tell her story in hopes her knight in a white SUV will read about her gratitude in the newspaper. Even if he doesn’t, maybe others will be enriched by the story of his generosity.

It’s not about the money, Lori repeated. She needed it, that’s for sure. She was broke But more than anything she needed to be lifted out of her despair and reminded that there are people who care. Just when we feel as though we’re all alone in our struggles, the kindness of a stranger says we are not.

Today is Christmas, but there’s a lot of thanksgiving going around — as there should be.

People can fill out applications at government agencies for official assistance. But if you need a sign that someone cares about your suffering and loneliness — or your mere existence —  government is the last place to look.

In fact, you may not be looking at all when someone reaches out and touches that empty place you didn’t even realize you had.          

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. …”

And, to paraphrase, I was a stranger and you lifted my spirits.

Thank you, kind strangers. You remind us what Christmas is all about.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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