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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Kindness of Strangers.” – When was the last time a stranger did something particularly kind, generous, or selfless for you? Tell us what happened!

This prompt is actually from a couple days ago but, pulling my computer out to finally check in on the blog and the community after a week-long hiatus, it immediately caught my eye over the other recent prompts. My post is not so much a reposnse to the prompt’s question as it is my own thoughts on the subject of selflessness, strangers, and my experiences as the idea of it reminded me of an event I observed, not for the first time, just the other day.

Living in a foreign country, I always appreciate even the smallest bit of kindness from locals and strangers. Whether it be a smile in the store or from another pedestrian on the street, directions when I am lost, or just a patient stranger or co-worker when my French comes out less-than-perfect or my eventual comprehension takes a couple minutes (both can happen quite often). Even just a fellow traveler sitting with me and chatting in a hostel. It is hard to pick out any one instance of kindness, there are so many I have experienced.

For the past week, I have been staying at a house on Utah Beach, one of the beaches in Normandy, where the Allied forces landed for the invasion on D-Day in WWII. It has been a very relaxing, but also meaningful week. But more on that later, in my upcoming posts. Back to our prompt.

The other day I was sitting on the beach (getting perhaps a little too much sun for my ever-pale complexion), with the family I’m spending my summer with. As we watched, the young boy of the family started playing around with some other kids on the beach. Watching for a few minutes I found myself in fascinated, not for the first time, by how easy it is for children to overcome the barriers of language and culture that so often stop us adults in our tracks. It is not the first time I have seen a similar occurrence, with him or with other children.

After a couple minutes observing them play I rose to go introduce myself, as the only French speaker amongst our small family, and confirm that all was good. The boy I was watching over, having lived in Europe for a couple years, was somewhat used to playing with non-Americans and children who do not speak his language. I wanted to make sure that the French kids, however, were also comfortable despite the language barrier.

Monument from the museum about the Utah Beach landing.

Monument from the museum about the Utah Beach landing.

There was no reason to worry. Perhaps I was even being overly cautious. An adult too distracted and overwhelmed by the difficulties I have seen nationality, culture, and language create. Language differences will rarely stop children, however, from simply being kids and playing. Why should it I suppose? Play and fun, they are international, multi-cultural, and timeless. I think we often lose this natural ability to connect, even over a simple game of tag, as we age. I have tried to regain it through traveling and interacting with people from different countries and cultures. It is hard, but I think (hope) I have succeeded for the most part myself. And watching these kids gave me further hope served as an additional reminder that it is possible, despite our differences to connect with each other.

In general, I think we are trying and doing our best to overcome these barriers. It might not be as effortless for us adults, with all our worries and pressures and ‘real-life-realities’, as it is for kids, who have far fewer cares. However, I think we can also look to our children and watch how they can so easily overcome these barriers. We can see it as inspiration and a reminder that it is possible. We can persevere and connect, despite the difficulties, the misunderstandings, the differences in interests. We can play together in the sand, on a sunny day, with seawater and dirt on our faces and clothes. There may be a couple frustrations, moments of miscommunication. We may come home tired, and a little sunburnt and still brooding a little about how the other kid ‘just kept doing it even when I said stop’!. But we can also look back on the day, and see the fun we had. The progress made, the connections formed, lessons learned, and experiences shared with joy and a sense of fulfillment.

Likely that day of playing in the water with a stranger from another country, who spoke not a word of their language, will fade into the haze of childhood memories for them. But maybe not. Maybe they will remember that they did not let their differences keep them from communicating, making themselves understood, and having an enjoyable day. I hope they are able to look back on that day and remember that we can all work together (I know I will, and will continue to see it as inspiration). Because they (we) are the future, and it is an important and powerful lesson they all learned the other day, on the beaches of Normandy. A lesson we can all learn from.

Edit : A post on my first week in Normandy, overall, can be found at Beaches of Normandy Part One