Dillon Beach, California. Day 23 of My Month of Hundreds.

The day is socked in with fog, and the sky and water come together at the horizon in a gray blur. My friend Neysa’s grandfather and uncles built this amazing house in the 1960’s and the family uses it for weekend and vacation getaways. She spent much of her childhood here, playing on the beach with her sister and cousins. I always craved more family time than I had, and it sounds idyllic.

We wanted to go for a walk, despite the gray sky. There were a lot of people on the beach and even in the water – folks with their dogs, kids in shorts, and surfers with their boards bobbing into view in the distance. When we got outside we realized it was raining hard. The wind was whipping the rain into our faces and our glasses were soon shedding drops onto our cheeks. Neysa decided to take hers off and made her way blindly along the sand. “Is that a dog?” she asked at one point.

We were quickly completely drenched. As my pants got wetter they got heavier and heavier, and I kept having to hitch them up out of the sand. We thought of turning back a couple of times but Neysa had a destination in mind. She’s twenty years my junior and I was determined to keep up.

By the time we got to the boat launch the beach was pretty deserted except for a few stoic individuals fishing from the landing. We ducked into the bait shop to warm up for a few minutes.  I had the C-note in my pocket and checked to make sure it hadn’t gotten soaked.

 

Fishing at Lawson's Landing

A couple walked by with their dog. They all looked a bit bedraggled, which is I’m sure how I looked as well. I got curious and decided to see where they were headed. Neysa grabbed the camera and I dashed outside, following them into the trailer park.

Hot on the trail

When I had almost caught up with them I called out, “Excuse me!” The wind was wailing and I had to yell louder. They turned, startled, and let me catch up. “Nice day, isn’t it?” I asked. “I love it!” said the woman. We drove out here just to be in the weather. I just love when it’s like this.” They had come from Sacramento, about 100 miles away, to walk on the beach in the rain.

We were standing in the road and I started to explain what I was doing. “I’m honoring my mom by passing along a gift each day this month in her memory.” They were quiet. “This is a gift for you.” I held out the $100 bill.

“Oh, no! I couldn’t take that!” the woman said. “It’s a gift”, I encouraged. “You can do whatever you like with it.” After a pause she started to cry, took the money and gave me a big long hug. “I’m going to donate it to the SPCA. That’s how we got this little guy.” The dog was watching her adoringly.

“Are you sure?” she asked. I said I was. She wanted to know why I had chosen them today and I couldn’t really spell it out. “Something about the three of you just drew me in”, I explained. I said that they looked “interesting”. The man laughed and spoke for the first time. “That’s a lot nicer than what people usually say about how I look!”

With Mike, Heidi and Rocket

The woman said their names were Heidi and Mike, and Rocket the dog. We all shook hands and she hugged me again. She thanked me and said that she sometimes forgets that there are nice people in the world, which can seem like “a bleak place”.  Then she told me a story.

A few weeks ago she was in a parking lot loading up her groceries when her shopping cart rolled off, smashing into another car and causing some minor damage. She felt terrible about it and started to write a note to leave on the windshield. Before she could finish, the owner of the car came out of the store. Heidi explained what had happened and was surprised when the woman told her not to worry about it. “She said that when she was in college the same thing happened to her. The person whose car she hit told her not to worry about it, just to make sure that she passed along the kindness someday.”

That’s the thing about passing along a kindness. You never know when or where it will land.

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October 17th. My 17th hundred. Halloween decorations peppering the neighborhood remind me how soon the month will be over. Already I can say that this process has been a success. I am changed – more aware, more open hearted, and in general more generous.  I have heard from others that they have been inspired, and I have seen a look of  surprise, joy and relief on the faces of over a dozen strangers.

We went to see the movie RED today. Great fun, as anything featuring Helen Mirren and Mary Louise Parker would have to be! John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis and the Russian guys weren’t bad either. While we were at the mall I saw Alberto, who got a C-note on the 10th. I kept my distance.

As we were leaving the parking lot a driver gestured politely, yielding the right of way. I made note of his old car and two young kids in the back seat. I abruptly circled back and spotted the back of the car just as the three of them were getting out. I pulled over and jumped out, chasing them across the street.

“Excuse me!” The man turned and smiled, holding the door of Barnes and Noble open for me. I went in, then thanked him for being so polite in the parking lot. “Oh, it’s nothing”, he said. “We all have to do what we can, you know, take care of each other on the road.”  The kids were watching quietly. I gave the brief version of my spiel and handed Dad the $100.

“Are you sure?”, he asked. “Are you sure?” I told him I was. “I chased you down, didn’t I?” He laughed and asked my name, then introduced himself and his two children, ages 4 and 9. He shook my hand and said he’s a teacher at Head Start. And that he would do something nice for the kids with the money. The 9 year old boy was grinning from ear to ear. I was happy for him to see this strange white lady do something nice for his Dad.

It’s striking how consistently people have a ready explanation for their kindness as if they, too, are just looking for opportunities to reach out with a generous gesture.

Day 3 of my Month of Hundreds. If not for the demands of this project, I might not have left the house today. But duty called, and also we were getting low on coffee.  Louise and I decided to walk down to Peet’s on Broadway, less than a mile away.

As we meandered through our well-kept neighborhood I couldn’t help but consider every person who walked or drove by. Lots of young families, strollers, men in cars. I realized how uncomfortable it would feel to approach someone appearing to be well-to-do; would they be insulted by my gesture? What does that mean?

I considered a woman sitting at the bus stop, her young daughter poking in the dirt next to the bench. A studious-appearing young man sitting outside Peet’s caught my eye, then the voice in my head reminded me that it’s the smokers who tend to sit outside. I thought how stupid my prejudice against smokers is, and kept walking. Louise and I got our coffee and then realized we were both starving.

We got burritos next door and sat down. There was a small crowd watching a football game in the bar but otherwise the place was empty. I was just starting to eat when I saw a young family walking by. A tall, thin woman in a colorful headscarf, a man and their two sons ages five and seven or so. Ethiopian? I wondered. Then I noticed the way both boys were holding onto their father’s large right hand. “I’ll be right back!”, I told Louise and bolted out the door. I didn’t want to seem to be sneaking up behind them so I walked quickly past and then turned around. I stood there as they walked closer, and could hear the woman speaking softly to the children. I worried that maybe they didn’t speak English.

“Excuse me”, I said. They stopped and I saw how beautiful the woman was. “This might sound a little strange”. She smiled, just a little. “I’m giving some gifts in honor of my mother, who died a few months ago”. “Oh, I am sorry!”, said the woman, and the man said, “I am sorry.” I pressed the folded up bill into the woman’s hand. “I would like you to have this”. I could tell she didn’t want to look at it too openly but she snuck a glance and said “Oh! Thank you! We’ll go school shopping!” She looked down at the older boy, who was squeezed shyly against his father’s side. “Say thank you!”, she said.  She gave me a big hug and then said, again, “I am sorry about your mother.”

The woman was clearly grateful but didn’t seem surprised. I like to imagine that, in their world, wonderful and unexpected things happen routinely. How lovely for those boys to grow up with a mother who takes the kindness of strangers in stride.