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Mnookin:Kindness Of Strangers

Last month, I unknowingly dropped my wallet while carrying my young daughter out of a café in downtown Brattleboro. We’d crossed the street to look for a birthday present for my 91-year-old grandmother, and I didn’t realize my wallet was missing for about ten minutes.

My daughter didn’t want to leave the store where she was happily playing with a set of magnets, but we made a hasty exit to run back across the street. My mind was racing as quickly as my feet, but I couldn’t remember when I’d last had my wallet. Maybe I’d left it on the café counter. Maybe it had fallen off the table, or was left in the bathroom.

Before going back inside, I was greeted by two onlookers; they’d noticed that my wallet had fallen out of my pocket just outside the café door. A third man, who was nowhere in sight, had picked it up. “You let someone pick up my wallet and walk away ?” I thought, puzzled, and even slightly annoyed.

But they hadn’t known where I’d gone, and this person promised to bring my wallet to the local police station. They reassured me, describing the gentleman as an “upstanding citizen” who wanted to find the wallet’s owner. The idealist in me relaxed but the cynic in me replied, “Yeah, right. He’s going to bring my wallet to the police station. Good one.”

Visibly shaken, but cautiously optimistic, I headed over to the station. My daughter could sense my anxiety, exclaiming repeatedly, “Uh-oh!” while I pondered the hassle and potential expense of replacing my wallet’s contents. After anxiously waiting at the station for fifteen minutes, I left my name and phone number, and apprehensively headed back out to the car.

But as I was buckling my daughter into her car seat, the police dispatcher ran outside to say that Walter French, a lawyer in town, was on the phone. He’d found my wallet and had it with him at his office. The police dispatcher’s face mirrored my own surprise. A wallet first lost, then found, and quickly returned isn’t a story you hear everyday.

When I entered his office, the lawyer declared, “I recognize that face!” He’d seen my driver’s license and left a message on my home phone before calling the police, and he was pleased to get my wallet back to me. My young daughter whispered a shy thanks, and made the sign for “thank you” before waving goodbye. Wallet in hand, we headed back to the store to buy my grandmother’s birthday present.

Too often, today’s headlines report one disaster after another: perpetual war, ongoing political battles, continued economic hardship, impending environmental catastrophe. And sometimes the enormity of these problems fills me with despair. I forget there are also stories worth celebrating every day. Stories about promise and the simple kindness of strangers.

A child’s first words.

A wallet returned.

Abigail Mnookin is a former biology teacher interested in issues of equality and the environment. She is currently organizing parents around climate justice with 350Vermont, and lives in Brattleboro with her wife and their two daughters.
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