The kindness of strangers

Time and time again, I’ve pondered the Internet behavior in which one sends a message out into the aether in response to an interaction that occurred in real life. This usually manifests as a Craigslist “Missed Connection” and is prompted by some kind of heavy eye contact in a crowded venue, a collision on the sidewalk, or a shared subway car. I’ve never understood why people do this — especially in New York City — when, taking into account the likelihood that the person with whom the connection was missed a) noticed,  b) reciprocated the sentiments, and c) reciprocated them enough to wade through the pile of Missed Connections — is slim to none.

What about this act provides a sense of personal satisfaction? Is it that sending the message prevents the “if I had only” feeling that can live in the back of one’s mind as regret for years? Does it immediately reward the message-sender in the way that completing any task does? Is it because it’s easier than actually trying to track a person down but you still feel like you’ve done something?

Perhaps we’ll never know, but I’m going to try it now and see what happens, because the kindness of strangers I’ve seen lately has gone a long way in convincing me that we aren’t all just selfish bastards.

We all need a little help sometimes.

We all need a little help sometimes.

So, to the strangers who will probably never see this…

To the woman who picked me up off the curb where I was crying and told me to move so a car wouldn’t hit me, and asked me what was wrong. She asked how old I am and laughed in my sad face when I told her that I am 22. She told me that it would be OK because I’m young and I’ve got a long way to go, and that she knows a lot of people in my industry and to call her because she could help me. I got very drunk that night and have no idea what I did with your information, but thank you.

To the homeless man pushing a walker on the subway who informed me that it was the last stop, and somehow knew when he saw my face that I was the most recent victim of the desolate economy. “Don’t worry darlin’, pretty girls don’t starve,” he told me with confidence. Sir, that statement was both comforting and disturbing, and I will remember it for the rest of my life. Thank you… and I hope you don’t starve either.

To the innocent guy in the subway who I snapped at because he was looking at me, “Do you think it won’t happen to you too?” To which he smiled at me and responded, “I got laid off 3 months ago, unemployment benefits are pretty nice” and made me feel sheepish, yet comforted.

To the bartender who provided me the tools for efficient memory erasure (Side Cars and chocolate cake shots) and didn’t charge me anything……. yeah, you probably shouldn’t have done that, but thanks.

And to the waiter at the fancy French restaurant where my roommate works who gave me his employee dinner credit when I hadn’t eaten all day and couldn’t access any of my funds. Thank you very much, it was delicious, and you have validated the homeless guy’s statement! And… I’m sorry that the mussels you shared with my roommate gave you both food poisoning.

Well, I’ve reached the end and I still don’t know why I am writing this Missed Connection, but I do feel pretty good about it. Perhaps there’s a similarity between the impulse to send a message out there into the Internets, not knowing what — if anything — will come of it, and that which inspires strangers to help people they’ve never met before and will probably never see again in order to claim their thank-you prize. I thought I had this shit all figured out when I was a cynical undergrad in philosophy class and argued the “ethical egoist” perspective until I was blue in the face. But in light of this new evidence, perhaps a revision of my original stance is in order.

5 thoughts on “The kindness of strangers

  1. ASKlein

    Well said, Millikan. And as someone in the same position as you I’ve noticed the gentler side of humanity has been emphasized—not hidden.

    Reply
  2. EJ

    My roommate found a Missed Connection about herself once- there’s hope! Also, I once posted one for a cute guy at the gym…and no such luck. Based on that sample though, there’s a 50% chance your missed connection will be seen!

    Reply
  3. scribbler50

    Wow, what a lovely post. Not just rich food for thought but a sweet little journey. As a New Yorker who’s had his share of those moments (and who would never dream of sending out an Internet A.P.B.), I can relate very much to the two-ships-passing-in-the-night thing.

    By the way, one far out reason, (in addition to your three totally valid possibilities), that explains why people might do this kind of thing is that they’ve seen it too many times in too many “boy meets girl” movies, (Thank you, Nora Ephron!) and they’re simply hopeless, “hopeful” romantics at heart. They see something like this as that one in a million shot, previously written in the stars, that must mean eternal love if those stars collide. But of course those stars never do which is your perfectly made point!

    Reply

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