The kindness of strangers

* Trying to carry on with business as usual feels a bit like fiddling while Rome is burning at this point. But this story isn’t so much for you – although I hope you’ll find resonance within it – as it is for me. Because I need to be reminded of the inherent goodness of people and how the simple act of being kind can mean so much and reach so far. It’s a story I’ve been meaning to tell for months, but for a variety of reasons, the timing now is right. *

I have to confess, I’m JUST as tired of talking about Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls as I’m sure you are of hearing about them. It seems like every time I sit down at my computer, another story with them as the centerpiece comes spilling out. Which probably makes sense, considering that they occupied quite a lot of my time last year, but I promise I’m not as all-consumed with them as it may appear. I haven’t even listened to their music since the Boston show in February. And this story does stem from that weekend, but it’s not about the gig or even the band, really – they were just the catalyst for the events that followed. A while back, I talked about how extraordinary the FT fanbase is, with the unerring kindness they show to others and their unquestioning acceptance of people of all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. In Boston, I found myself on both the giving and the receiving end of that kindness.

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Frank and the Souls, Agganis Arena, Boston, February 2017

I may have mentioned that for that particular show, I queued up exceptionally early, and so did quite a few other people. It was a long afternoon of standing uncomfortably or sitting uncomfortably, of taking turns to head to the corner store for food or a bathroom or a power outlet. Some generous souls attempted to alleviate the tedium. At one point, Will Varley (one of the openers) and Felix Hagan (a temporary Sleeping Soul) gave an impromptu acoustic show for those of us massed in front of the entrance. At another point, my good friend Rich brought treats for the people in the queue. Now, this is actually really important. Rich is something of a legend within the FT ranks for his baking, and his peanut butter Oreo brownie cupcakes (I know. I’m drooling just thinking about them) are especially beloved. But because he knows so many people and can only bake so much the night before a show, scoring one of his treats is something of a rarity. But in this instance, because it was a special show with so many friends coming together from so many places, he went all out and made dozens of extras. I can’t emphasize enough the camaraderie and goodwill that was shared among the fans over those cupcakes. But because Rich was also pulling double-duty as a show photographer, he didn’t have time to distribute them all, so I was bequeathed the honor. I made my way down the queue passing out cupcakes and only had a couple left when I spotted a boy of about nine or ten sporting a Positive Songs for Negative People shirt and standing in line with his dad (which I still think is one of the most awesome things ever.  Frank may use some pretty foul language during his shows, but the message he advocates far outweighs the NSFW elements). All the while knowing that I will never fully be able to shed the children’s librarian mantle, I approached the boy and asked if he wanted a cupcake too. He looked hesitantly up at his dad, who nodded that it was okay and the boy helped himself to one and took a cautious bite. A moment later, his eyes got as big as saucers and as we all laughed at his obvious delight, he answered in the affirmative through a mouthful of chocolate when his dad asked if it was good. It was a sweet, light-hearted moment that, for me at least, started the tone of the evening beautifully. I would find out a day or two later, though, that I wasn’t the only one who thought fondly of it. The boy’s dad (I would find that his name was Shawn) found me through social media to thank me again for sharing with his son, Travis, and said that Travis was looking forward to seeing me at the next Frank Turner show and that I’d hopefully have some more cupcakes in tow. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t tear up. So now I have another reason to head back up to the New England area…I’ve got a buddy who’s waiting to seeing me. I just need to learn how to make those cupcakes.

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My new friend Travis with Will Varley (photo by Travis’s dad, Shawn)

A few short hours later, it was my turn to be on the receiving end of kindness, when I found myself in one of the most socially awkward situations I’ve ever been in, being someplace I had no right to be, surrounded by people I didn’t know but who all knew each other, trying desperately to not look as out of place and uncomfortable as I felt, and staring at my cell phone just so I’d have something to do. The table next to mine (at which I was sitting alone) was full of laughing, chatting people, and one of that group must’ve seen how pathetic I looked and took pity on me, inviting me to join them. It was only for a few minutes before the party split up, but being included by a total stranger felt like…well, it felt like I imagine Travis had felt earlier in the evening, being singled out and treated kindly for no apparent reason. And this was how I came to be introduced to Rudy. Those brief few minutes were the extent of our in-person interactions, since at the end of the night we all dispersed to our corners of the world, but not long after, we became Facebook friends and something tells me we’re going to be good friends in real life too.

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A graphic representation of my and Rudy’s first meeting

And now, reliving those moments, I’m reminded of how damned lucky I am to find myself surrounded by such good people, and my heart is full.

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