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Kindness From a Stranger

08/11/2014 11:01 am ET | Updated Oct 11, 2014
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I am not a technically-inclined person. If I walk by a copy machine, the paper jams. I need my children's help to turn on the TV. And once, I took in a cassette player (remember those?) that was broken, only to learn a week later that the "pause" button had been pressed down.

When I decided to format a book myself, it seemed a daunting task, but because I'm in the business of writing, it seemed like a skill worth learning. I cheered myself on, telling myself that I was evolving with times. To my credit, I successfully uploaded files to a template and created headers and footers. And then I got stuck on page numbers. I could only display even numbered pages: 2, 4, 6, 8....

"Do books really need page numbers?" I asked a friend.

"Yes," she said, "Page numbers are important."

This is when I took to the Internet. I googled for help. I read for hours. I tried different approaches. I even entered an online discussion group. I created an alias name (which was required) and asked for help. To my amazement, suggestions were offered immediately.

I tried all, but with no success. I felt like giving up.

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I posted that none of the suggestion had worked. And then someone sent me a private message. Someone with only initials as their alias offered to help me if I would send them a copy of the document.

I was leaving the house to meet a friend for tea. Really, would someone really do this? Could I trust this person with two initials?

Just that morning I had started writing a note to myself on the importance of remembering to be kind to strangers.

Here's what I wrote: "Do you ever have one of those days when you have to really fight to see the good in the day, in the world, in the person behind the cash register at the grocery store, to even see that there is a person behind the cash register?

I believe it is essential to fight to be kind to strangers. Sometimes kindness from a stranger can make someone's day. It's tough business being human. And personal relationships can be, well, personal. Rough, tumble, up, down. But as a stranger in the world, I have the opportunity to do something for people I meet. I can choose to be patient. I can choose to be kind. I can choose to see them as human beings. And these choices are gifts that can change the direction of someone's day which then can change the direction of someone else's day."

I was writing to myself on the importance of remembering to be kind to strangers, and then someone attempted to be kind to me, and my initial response was mistrust. But my frustration, my desperation and my desire to see page numbers on my manuscript led me to believe that perhaps this person really would help me. I created a document and sent my manuscript into the ethers--on a wing and a prayer.

I arrived a few minutes late to meet my friend for tea. She had already purchased a piece of chocolate cake for us to share -- the delicious kind that doesn't waste time on flour. For two days, I had been lost in a rabbit hole of trial and error. My shoulders were hunched over. Sunlight made me squint. I definitely needed the break. I listened to my friend's stories and we talked. It was nice to sit at an outdoor café and see people. A street musician played music, bees circled a flowering plant and we watched a woman put a dog in a stroller. Eventually, I shared with my friend my days spent trying to solve the page number problem. She was sympathetic which felt good.

It is my belief that laughing with a woman friend helps everything, as does chocolate. So I returned home to my rabbit hole refreshed and ready to try again. As a delay tactic, I checked my email. There was a message from the stranger.

"I think this should have it solved for you, the template had some weird artifacts and anchors just below the odd page header. I ran it through a print preview to check the spreads and believe this cleans it all up for you."

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I grew up watching the Lone Ranger and Wonder Woman. I felt like a superhero with a gold lasso had pulled me out of a sinkhole. I opened the document, and there was my manuscript with page numbers, even and odd page numbers.

I admired them, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. And this is when I paused.

I've been reading books on the brain and how to increase happiness. What I've been learning is that it's important to press the "pause" button more often when something good happens and to leave it pressed down for extended periods of time. I'm trying to notice and soak in what it feels like when someone, completely out of the blue, or in this case, from an online chat room, does something kind.

To make the message from the stranger even better, the person with two initials, who had seen my complete manuscript, wrote: P.S., love the concept and will be adding a printed copy to my wish list.

Pause, pause, pause.

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Kathleen Buckstaff is the author of two books that celebrate life and motherhood:Mother Advice To Take With You To College, a collection of hilarious drawings and wise sayings, and The Tiffany Box: A Memoir, an International Best Book Awards Finalist, a true story told through emails and letters about the last two years of Kathleen's mother's life. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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