The kindness of strangers

It’s commonplace in Austria to have complete strangers help with small things.  I’ve had help getting the stroller on and off buses, into and out of shops, on an off the strassenbahns, down flights of stairs and once, very memorably, a woman missed her train to help me shepherd Benjamin, Liam in the stroller and Benjamin’s bike up an escalator when the elevator was broken.  I’m also pleasantly surprised at how much help and kindness I’m shown when I need help somewhere and I have to resort to English (because the issue is well beyond even attempting in German) — like much of the help I got with my dress search and then, this week, when I had to explain to a teller at the bank that my ATM card had stopped functioning and I needed a new one.  People here are generally helpful and patient (especially when I’m out with the kids and I’m at least attempting to communicate in German).  My days are much more pleasant for the kind gestures, and I’m incredibly grateful.

But it goes beyond that for us right now.  It isn’t just the people on the street who share the kindness of strangers with us — everyone we “know” here right now is kind of a stranger — there isn’t one of them that we knew this time last year.  We have some new friends here, several of them, that I feel very close to — it’s actually shocking for me to remember how young our friendships are.  We have many friends who go out of their way to help us, to support us, to answer questions — and they’re all people we haven’t known long.  One friend helped me though the stress of my dress search;  our neighbors from downstairs watched the boys while we went to the ball;  another joined us on our trip to Innsbruck and was amazing in her patience and assistance.

All of these people, plus many more that we now know and love, are new in our lives.  I am so grateful and impressed by all of their openness, compassion and love.  As someone who has spent her life surrounded by many of the same people (which is also an amazing gift to have — I have not one but several friends who I have known for over 25 years) these kinds of friendships, that form so quickly and strongly, are new to me.  I am so appreciative of all of my friends, here and at home, and for the kindness that they all show to us.  We feel very loved.

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