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On The Kindness of Strangers, No Matter How Strange

This was written in the Spring of 2010, it is an excerpt from "The Pearls Of Paulina"

Ever since my car got stolen, my commute to work has been quite physical. Twice a day I have no choice but to walk 2.5 miles. Needless to say, I try to minimize how many things I carry on my commute.

My apartment is on the way to the airport from the office, so I usually leave my packed suitcase at home if I have to go to the office before a business trip. One day during my last year in corporate, I had a very important work meeting in Dallas and got up early to tie up loose ends at the office. Once done, I met my scheduled driver and asked him to stop by my apartment to pick up the suitcase that was waiting for me by the door. The driver, a muscular red-headed man with tubes in his earlobes, tried chatting me up the whole ride. This annoyed me to no end because I was preoccupied with getting to the airport and replying to emails. I was in no mood to be sociable, especially with someone wearing tubes through his earlobes!

When we arrived, I reached into the pocket of my bag where I always keep my key, but, it wasn't there. In fact, it wasn't in any of the twenty-five pockets of my bag. My heart raced. "Oh NO! Of all days!" I had locked myself out. Seeing me panic, the driver offered, in his thick Boston accent, to "help". I looked at him, he looked back from a tilted head with raised eyebrows. He means he'll help me break in.

"Let me call my landlord", I say. My landlord texts me back that he can't help me, so I tell the driver to go ahead. He pulls out a big folding knife (and I mean, it was BIG!) and slips it between the door and the jam, but can't get through the deadbolt. "Is there any other way in?" he asks. I hesitantly tell him that the lock on my bedroom window doesn't work, pointing to the window three stories up and several feet away from the deck.

I get on the phone with my travel agent to see what my options are for getting to Dallas before my morning meeting. The driver looks around and notices a construction site down the street. He goes over to the building and comes back with a little Hispanic man carrying a ladder. While I'm on the phone with the travel agent, the little guy climbs up, balances on the edge of the ladder with one foot, and reaches over to my window.

"You better put me on the 7:00, my suitcase is locked in my apartment and I may be able to get a key by then...", I tell the travel agent.

The driver hands the little guy his big-ass knife and he pulls off my screen with it. Still balancing on the edge of the ladder with one foot, bracing himself on the side of the building with one hand, the little guy reaches over and pushes my window open.

"hang on, they're trying to break into my apartment as I speak, if they get in, I can get on the 5:00..."

The little guy grabs on to the ledge of my bedroom window with the tips of his fingers and lets go of the brace and the ladder, dangling precariously for a bit before swinging his legs over.

"Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God! Please don't fall!!!"

From the momentum of the swing he reaches up with his other hand and pulls himself up, scraping his feet against the side of the window to crawl into my bedroom.

"Book me on the 5:00, he's in!"

I walk up to the door on the deck that leads to my bedroom and knock so the little guy knows to open it. Nothing. I wait, knock again, and still, nothing. I start to walk down the stairs of my deck to go to the front door. I'm on the 2nd floor when the red-headed, knife wielding driver (in a tux of all things) opens my bedroom door to let me in. He leaves me there and heads back down to the car while I get my suitcase.

I scrambled to put on the jewelry that had the most sentimental value and hide my personal identification "stuff". Then made a big show of pretending to lock the broken lock on my bedroom window in case any of the neighbors were watching and had any ideas about paying me a surprise visit.

Next, I am handing the driver my suitcase and getting in the car. How safe do I feel? There are now two people who know that the window to my bedroom doesn't lock and all you need is a ladder to get in and I'm going to be away for a few days. Even if these two people aren't inclined to commit a crime so easy to trace, all they'd have to do is mention it to one other person who IS inclined. I am vulnerable...UGH!  After contacting my landlord to ask him to fix the lock, I called my insurance agent to make sure my renter's insurance is still active. I surrendered the rest up to the Universe. "I could use new furniture", I thought.

In Dallas, my coworkers joked that the driver and construction worker were in my bedroom as we spoke trying on my lingerie and I laughed uneasily until I was reminded of what was laid out on my bed during the whole incident...a pair of silver platform boots and a silver bikini - my pole dance showcase costume! Though no one could see it, I blushed. I swear, this kind of thing only happens to me.

When I got back to Boston, and found that my apartment was safe, I started unpacking my suitcase and found the driver's business card. Suddenly I was reminded of the things he told me on the drive to the airport. He was a competitor in martial arts and had a martial arts supply business. Driving for the company was the job that paid the bills while he, like me, pursued his passion on the side. I suddenly felt lucky. A more professional driver would never have gone to the lengths he did to help. How perfect was it that I got the knife-weilding, thick-accented driver that day?

I can be my own worst enemy sometimes. Over-challenging myself so I am not present only to complicate my life by forgetting my keys when I have an important business trip. It never occurs to me to "impose" upon another by asking for help--God forbid I should ever be so vulnerable or dependent! And, the entire time, the universe had already stepped in to send me just the person I needed. Though he may not quite look or speak or act like someone I would willingly associate with, he is nothing less than an angel in disguise, there to open the door so I can pass through to where I'm supposed to be.

When I got back to the office after my trip I sent the driver a thank you note. He responded that he was glad to hear from me because he'd been thinking about the whole incident and laughing to himself for days unable to share the story with anyone. See that? My secret was safe with him!

Suddenly, the peril became a pearl.

As I look back on this story almost five years later, I am struck at how this experience continues to teach me. I am reminded at how I judged others for being different from me. And it reminds me of the way many pole dancers are judged. I still am, probably rightly so, fearful of a man who carries a weapon and knows how to use it. But, we train men to carry and use weapons all the time, "for our protection". In the end, it is not the weapon the individual carries but the intent behind the use. He was a stranger, how could I possibly know what his intent was, except to put down my smart phone, recognize him, and listen to my heart.

In yoga we use the term Namaste. In my classes we say it at the beginning and end of each class. Some think it is a greeting, and they would be right. But it is a profound greeting because it represents one of the essential teachings of yoga, that is the recognition that we are all ONE. It says, "The Divine in me recognizes the Divine in you". And, when you are in the presence of the Divine, there is no judgment, only love.

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