Receiving kindness from strangers is a special grace. I realized this last month in the San Diego Airport when a young man named Ryan went out of his way to show kindness to me, whom he had never met before.

Let me provide some context first. Last month I was getting ready to fly home from a business trip in San Diego. When I fly, I’m diligent about getting to the airport early, taking my time going through security and finding my gate well ahead of the time to board the plane.

On this trip, I was less diligent. I thought I had more time than I did and ended up entering security just minutes before my plane was scheduled to board. I felt rushed.

One of the advantages of being at least 75 years old is that I don’t have to take off my shoes going through security, so I had that going for me. But I was a little disoriented when it came time to put my belongings on the moving security belt that would carry them through the X-ray machine.

The last time I went through the San Diego Airport I thought I could keep my I-pad and cell phone inside my briefcase, but this time I was told I needed to take them out and put them through separately in a separate bin. 

My suitcase was already moving into the X-ray machine, but I grabbed my briefcase, removed my I-pad and cell phone and put those two electronic items in their own bin.

I could hear the clock ticking in my brain as I was ushered into the old peoples’ line and moved through. I was eager to pick up my stuff and head out.

The person ahead of me was a young man, probably in his early 20s. He had a bunch of things to collect and shoes to put back on. I snuck around him, grabbed my stuff and headed to my gate. When I got there I was feeling good, because I had not lost my place in line.

It was then that I heard a person behind me saying something to me. It was that same young man who had been in front of me. As he told me later, his name is Ryan.

“I think security is calling for you,” he said. “Did you leave your I-pad and cell phone behind when you left security?”

In an instant I had realized what I had done, or to be exact, what I had not done. In my hurry to head to the gate I grabbed my suitcase and briefcase but had left my cell phone and I-pad, which were placed last in a bin on the moving belt, behind.

“Oh, sugar!” I said to myself, or something close to that. I’ve got to go back, I thought, even if I miss my flight.

“Come with me,” Ryan said, “and I’ll show you exactly where to go to claim your things.”

I followed him down the escalator away from the moving belts to a TWE security guard. “I’m the strange guy who left his cell phone and I-pad behind,” I said. The security person quickly realized what was happening, found the two items and returned them to me.

Meanwhile, Ryan stayed close by. And after I had retrieved my lost stuff, he came with me back to my gate. Since I had a B-53 boarding assignment, I was lucky I had not lost my place.

At this point I asked him his name and then thanked Ryan profusely, who was headed for a different flight at a different gate. I moved forward in my line and boarded–on time.

It was then I started to think, what if I had not noticed my missing stuff, especially my cell phone, until after I had sat down in my seat. Or worse, what if I realized this after the crew had closed the airplane’s doors, ready to take off, and I was phone-less.

Those were unsettling thoughts, along with how could I have been so absent-minded to leave that stuff behind.

After a deep breath or two, I reflected on what Ryan had done. I would guess that 99 out of 100 people in Ryan’s situation would have said to themselves, “Poor guy. I wonder when he’ll realize he is sure out of luck.”

But Ryan didn’t. He went far out of his way to track me down and stayed with me until he knew everything was OK. What kindness. What a random act of kindness. What kindness to strangers.

My sister Joan, who is a strong believer in angels, would have said that fellow was not Ryan but Gabriel or Michael or Raphael, because Ryan acted just like the angels we read about in stories about them. They appear out of nowhere, do a good deed, and then disappear, faster than the Lone Ranger riding out of town.

I think, but I can’t prove, that Ryan was a human being, an extremely caring young man who had compassion for an old guy in an airport.

I’m sure I’ll never meet Ryan again, and I have no way of thanking him again. But I hope he knows how much I appreciated him and hope that he’ll do the same for the next absent-minded person he encounters.

The experience with Ryan also reinforced my need to do likewise–go out of my way to help a stranger in need, even if 99 other people pass him by. As I further reflect, I wonder if Ryan was a Samaritan.

On another note: The recent passing of Julie Piwowarski reminded me how fortunate I have been to have the extended Piwowarski family in my life.  In my early days in Los Banos, brothers Stan and Bob Piwowarski owned a glass shop, two of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. And Julie was part of a Writing Your Life Stories class I was in, a bright and cheerful woman, an excellent nurse and writer who brought joy to my life.