During my weeks in Portland, the city’s reputation for being weird has lived up to my expectations in a lot of ways, but something I’ve found to be more constant than “strangeness” is people’s kindness. In two weeks, almost all my interactions with strangers have been extremely pleasant. Drivers don’t honk at you for walking in front of them; they just smile and wave you on. People don’t get annoyed at you for taking pictures of something and blocking their way; they just ask if they can help by taking your picture instead. People talk to you. In the line at the grocery store, while hiking, while browsing a store … people just make conversation sometimes.
Last Sunday, this phenomenon presented itself to me while I was hiking. I had just finished a trail in the woods and found myself in a beautiful residential neighborhood. In front of me was an overlook onto a gorgeous river. As I walked closer to get a better view, a woman approached me and kindly asked me what I was doing. We started talking candidly. I told her I was a university student and that I was just here for the summer. After about five minutes of small talk, she invited me to hang out with her family and friends, who were having a get-together that night. Without much thought, I gladly accepted. This woman seemed wonderful and kind; she reminded me of my family a little.
We walked a short distance to her home and were immediately greeted in the driveway by some folks that had just arrived. I was introduced as a friend. The woman’s daughter, who had just arrived from the airport, laughed and said, “How new of a friend?!” And I responded, “We met, I guess, five minutes ago?”
After settling inside and meeting everyone that had just arrived, we all headed down to the docks, where I was introduced by my new friends to some more folks. Even though I was just some random college kid to these people, they still welcomed me and wanted to get to know me. They also wanted to make sure I had fun, knowing that I was only in Portland for two months. Soon enough, I found myself driving the family’s jet-ski and exploring the riverside with two new friends about my age. This was the last thing I expected when I began my hike, and I was in awe.
Later on, we all ate dinner together in the house. We told stories and had hearty conversation for hours. I got to know most of them pretty well. By the end of the night, I no longer felt like a stranger; instead, I felt like a family friend. When it was time for me to go home and everyone else to sleep, they drove me back to Lewis & Clark campus, and we said our goodbyes with hugs and smiles and exchanged phone numbers. Hopefully, I will see some of them again.
I guess I wanted to tell this story to let it be known what kind of awesome things can happen from small acts of kindness. That night, I expected to take my hike alone and then come home alone. Instead, I met some wonderful people and shared a wonderful evening with them. And I have that woman to thank for reaching out to me.
At DukeEngage, we are all doing planned service work. We are making big impacts in important themes such as homelessness, human rights, immigration, education, and conservation. However, it is important to think about how even the smallest of actions can have great impact. We can serve others outside of our official service work. Random acts of kindness can bring change just as surely as planned service work.
Maybe not in the same way necessarily, but definitely enough to matter.