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Finding Common Ground Through Random Acts of Kindness

As I finished reading a book, while awaiting departure from Bergstrom International Airport, Austin, TX, a young lady appeared in the seat beside me.

“Are you a reader?” I asked her.

“Yes, I like to read!” she answered.

“Wanna book?” I offered, wanting to lighten base weight of my shoulder bag, before catching a connecting flight in Houston. The rest is history!

We made sporadic conversation, strangers learning what we could of one another. She lived in Mississippi and was returning home, from visiting a friend at UT. I lived in Pennsylvania and was returning home, from meeting my publicists. Actually, I was anxious to get home and was thinking about little else. I was hoping to sleep, and was allowing my laptop to rest peacefully at my feet, under the seat in front of me.

We began finding common ground, making a few connections with our family origins. Accidentally, I kicked my laptop with my foot, triggering my mind into immediate action as I raised the computer to useful service. She didn’t realize what I was doing, as I brought a program up and began making a few clicking noises with the keyboard.

“Hey, what’s your last name?” I asked, leaning her way. “I want to try something!”

She spoke and watched, as I typed and teasingly dangled my middle finger above the “enter” key. “Watch this!” I said, hitting the key and not knowing what to expect. I was simply curious, wanting to see what would happen.

It was a roll of the dice for both of us, holding unlikely odds and a shocking reality. She pulled back at first, speechless; not that I had entered her name into my computer, but that it was already there. In a split second’s reaction of disbelief, we both realized what had happened. We were relatives of each other, and my extensive work of updating and upgrading family genealogical records returned an unexpected reward.

“That’s me!” she blurted out, pointing at the screen. “That’s my birthday! That’s my sister! That’s my parents, and the date of their wedding anniversary!”

“May I show you more?” I asked. “This is your mother’s parents, and your grandmother’s parents; and your great grandfather was a cousin of my grandmother! Your mother and I are third cousins! And, you and I are third cousins once removed, if you can follow that! What are the chances, of all the people and places in the world, that today, on this flight, a 'relative stranger' would sit down on the seat beside me?”

We parted ways in Houston, onward with our own lives, commitments and connections to keep, in fulfillment of the next segments of our separate journeys. We parted smiling, taking a few pictures and offering our best wishes to each other, and pondering the significance of our chance meeting. What are the chances?

A feeling of warmth and happiness followed me all the way home, making the longer flight to Baltimore more tolerable and enjoyable. I was blessed to meet a fine young lady, this relative I never knew before and may never see again. And, it all began with the simple passing of a book, from one reader to another.

Carl Hershey - Lancaster, PA

© 2001-2005 BookCrossing.com. All Rights Reserved. Used by kind permission.

Carl Hershey is the author of Reversing Thrust: A Backward Step into Manhood. At forty-one, Carl remains single and has never been married. In his spare time, he enjoys recreational aspects of biking, hiking, and swimming. Beyond his own life dreams, his ongoing goal is to inspire the creative thought process in other people, to see and realize the potential in their own life dreams. He believes in the possibility of all things, and he desires to share that message through personal experience and a deepening faith in God. He plans to continue writing, and he entertains several possibilities for his future life work.


BookCrossing.com is "the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise . . ."

One question creates a link for two women who were connected before they were born

Jeanne refused to give in to the 40th-birthday blues. She wanted to go to Las Vegas and have a birthday bash instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for herself. She and her husband made their travel plans and invited others to join them. Nine of us -- family and friends -- made the trip, including Richard (Jeanne's father) and Diane, a friend of Jeanne's.

Richard was always the life of our parties. He had worked at many jobs, but his favorite was tending bar. And he was the perfect bartender. Warm, welcoming and always ready with a dozen new jokes to tell, he drew people to him.

But our birthday gathering was overlaid with sorrow. Richard was dying. After surgery and chemotherapy, for a year it looked like he had beaten the cancer. Now it was back, and no surgery was possible. Making this trip was a heroic effort for him. He had made it clear, however, that he didn't want the focus to be on him. This was Jeanne's party, and we were there to have a good time.

I became part of this Italian family by marrying Richard's brother. When I was a kid, mealtime meant being coerced into eating my veggies. Except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, dinner was seldom a pleasure; it was just a meal. For Italians, I would learn, every meal is an occasion made more joyful by getting together with a crowd of loved ones. With several conversations going on at the same time, with the table groaning under the weight of antipasto, breads, lasagna, sausage and peppers, meat balls and more, they celebrate family and life with great food, wine and laughter.

We gathered in a mini-suite before going out to dinner. Jeanne's husband (a chef) had planned the hors d'oeuvres with loving care. We ate, drank, talked and laughed. An outsider aware of the circumstances might have thought our raucous laughter out of place. But it was our bittersweet gift to Richard: One more happy memory for him to carry through the pain-filled days.

Jeanne and Diane had been buddies for ten years. Their paths crossed initially because they both worked in the food service industry. Diane, more than once over the years, had been part of family festivities. Richard was interested in genealogy and had researched his family name through several generations. As he and Diane were talking that night, he said, "You know, I've never asked you what your birth name was."

Diane told him. It was an unusual name. Richard's face showed surprise. He said, "When I was in the Navy in the 40's, I served on a ship with a man who had that name. We were good friends for a long time, but then we lost track of each other. His first name was . . ."

Now it was her surprise that caught our attention. Diane said softly, "That was my father's name."

She and Richard stared at each other in disbelief. Could it be the same man? He continued, "I remember that his wife's name was . . ."

Diane broke into tears. Taking a gulp of air, she cried, "That's, that's my mother's name!"

When she could speak again, she phoned her mother. And Richard and her mother talked. There were joyful tears on both sides of the call and then plenty of laughs while they reminisced about their time living in Virginia. For Diane it was a poignant evening. She couldn't share the news with her father because he had passed away just a few months before.

Seven months after that night, Richard lost his long fight with cancer. Diane still cherishes her deeply personal connection with him.

Jane Allen - San Francisco

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