It seems everywhere I go lately I am welcomed with open arms. People invite me into their homes without even asking my name, and when it’s time to turn and go, I shake my head, more bewildered than ever by the kindness of strangers.
It would be convenient to say I deserve such generosity, but really I don’t. It has nothing to do with me. I talk with food in my mouth and I’m not especially charming when my feet are cold. If hospitality hinged on me alone I’d surely have to fend for myself.
Nor does my bicycle warrant special attention. It has more battle scars than a Comanche brave but no one has ever crossed the street to ask its secrets.
Why then do people stop and stare when I pedal down the highway? What moves them to buy me sweets, to put their arm around me and take cellphone pictures in the middle of nowhere?
Near Augusta I met a mad farmer with a toothless grin and a heart of gold. Gideon lived in a shack and survived on stale bread and milk, yet he made sure I had a dry place to sleep.
Leaving the IGA in Denmark, I was asked four times if I needed a bed, all before I had finished loading my bike. I accepted the first offer and stayed with Ian, a gentleman with the wisdom to say nothing when he showed me the most beautiful beach in the world.
Why did they do it?
Maybe people are attracted to the idea of the lone traveler. I know I was. It’s a powerful image that stirs something deep inside, something primal that we feel but cannot say.
Many look at their marriage or mortgage and call traveling freedom. Others are frightened by the very idea but can’t help watching between their fingers. Some say wandering is crazy, some say it’s the only thing that makes sense.
Whatever the reaction, people seem to instinctively afford the traveler some measure of respect. Not pity, not exaltation – just respect. Such is the seed of kindness.
I think what makes it grow is this: the world is full of good people.
Don’t paint me as an idealist or dreamy romantic for saying so. I don’t subscribe to hippie dippy bullshit. Before I left Canada no one could convince me that mankind was anything but wretched, and I’ve tested my ideas with clear eyes ever since.
But the answer is always the same.
I believe in desperation, in ignorance and anger, but I don’t believe in evil. At the core of everyone is a grain of something decent. Those who help me do it because it is good, and in the doing they look past my gratitude and find themselves instead.