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Posts Tagged ‘kindness to strangers’

In today’s Washington Post, there is another powerful story involving hands, in this case, what happens when people lend a helping hand to strangers. The article is by Michael Ruane and is called “Shipwreck survivor recalls how town altered his idea of race.”  I highly recommend you read the entire article if you can, but if you can’t here’s the crux of the story:   In the winter of 1942, an 18-year old black man serving in the U.S. Navy survived a shipwreck off the coast of Newfoundland.  He is the only black man among a group of white sailors who made it to shore.  The son of sharecroppers and great-grandson of slaves, he had been raised in the segregated deep south, and served in the deeply segregated military.  His heart was well on its way to being filled with hate for the people around him, especially for those people who treated him as if he had little value.  But fate intervened.

On the shores of a strange land, covered in oil and freezing, the young man was approached by white people who held out their hands to lift him up, to warm him by a fire, and to wash the oil from his body.  Now in his 80’s, he recollects that one of the locals remarked that day, “I can’t get the oil off his body.”  The sailor had to explain that “It’s the color of the skin.  You can’t get it off.”  Eventually one of the townspeople took him home, fed him soup, and basically treated him as the human being he was.  The actions of those townspeople forever changed the perceptions of that young man about his world and the people in it.

One act of kindness changed a life.  And, if you read the article, you get the sense that that young man went on to change other peoples’ lives,  whether in the military, walking with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, AL, or with his own family.

At first the article made me sad as I remembered my father’s stories of military prejudice when he served in the Korean War.  It also reminded me of the rise in hate by people in this country of other people in this country based purely on skin color and certainly religious belief.  But in the end, the article made me hopeful, reminding me that there has been and still is goodwill in the world, and that there is meaning and impact in lifting one’s hands to help even just one other person.

You can read the article here.

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