Strangers

You’ve probably never heard of Hody Childress. He was a stranger to me as well until I recently read of his passing and his incredible legacy of anonymous kindness.

Thirteen years ago, Hody asked his pharmacist a simple question, “Do you ever have anyone come in who can’t afford their medication?”  The pharmacist replied, “All the time.”  Hody responded by pulling out a folded hundred dollar bill  and telling the pharmacist that the next time that happens, “Use this.”  

Every month for the next thirteen years, Hody came back into the pharmacy with more cash. The only condition was that no one knew where the money came from.

Hody was a farmer who grew up with little.  After serving in the Air Force, he worked at Lockheed Martin for twenty years, until returning to farming later in life with his son.

Recently, coming off a bad day, I went to a local diner to write and grab a slice of apple pie.  I overheard a customer talking to a waitress at the counter. She looked to be my mother’s age and was dining alone. She was surprised by the rising prices of the menu items and shocked by the amount of her check. The waitress noted that a lot of regulars had stopped coming in and asked the customer what she would do.  Her reply was crushing. “I guess I’ll just stay at home.”

I walked over and asked if I could pick up her check. At first she resisted, she had felt bad that I had overheard her complaints.  She asked if I knew her and I responded that I did not.  I just wanted to do something nice for a stranger and hoped that maybe someone would do something similar for my own mom.

These acts of kindness are not comparable – either in cost or commitment.  And while in each case the giver and the recipient were strangers to each other – they were not strangers to the underlying need. 

In this New York Times obituary, it noted that Hody used to carry his wife up the bleachers at local high school football games to compensate for her multiple sclerosis. He was intimately familiar with the high costs of medicine and the many strains of health challenges on a family.

Similarly, I remember from my childhood hard choices about food and money. Certain items not covered by food stamps being denied at grocery stores to the embarrassment of my mother and the luxury that the rare opportunity of going out to eat represented. 

We have grown up with terms like stranger danger and the inclination to see someone we don’t know and not see them or their struggles at all has become too natural.

But none of us are really strangers. We breathe the same air, value many of the same things, have similar needs, hopes and aspirations. We just don’t know each other…yet

In the aftermath of Hody’s passing, news got out about his giving. Others soon stepped in to donate to the pharmacy in his absence. 

Perhaps you will see something familiar in the eyes of a stranger this week. On the street, in a store, at a restaurant or pharmacy. I hope you step in. They, you and the world will be all the better for it. 

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