The Kindness of Strangers
My friend, Julie, called me from a dumpster one Friday night last month. She was supposed to be joining us for dinner, but instead was knee deep in coffee grinds and cream -- her Nordic walking stick in hand -- poking around in a bright-red garbage container behind Starbucks Pantops. Sometime during the day, she had lost her ring. Not just any ring, mind you. This was an expensive, hand-designed piece of jewelry she’d received as a gift for her 50th birthday...from none other than Julie herself. Unsure if her husband planned to get her anything special for her “big” day -- and feeling she deserved something quite major to mark and properly celebrate the occasion -- she had put the ring on layaway and then chipped away at paying it off.
That Friday night, she called rather frantically. And though feeling bad for being behind schedule, she was determined to retrace her steps sooner rather than later. Her hope was to find the ring in Starbucks’ Ladies-room trash as she’d washed her hands there that morning. But the garbage had just been dumped in the big red bin outside. Though coffee dregs were all she found in her initial search, just to be thorough and efficient, she decided to bring home one promising trash bag that appeared to be filled with only paper towels -- possibly from the Ladies restroom -- to sort through later.
Then she set off for Cracker Barrel in Waynesboro where she’d also had a lunch-date that afternoon. Julie was convinced she should drive the hour-and-a-half round-trip over the mountain to also check this venue’s garbage. Nothing like a little dumpster diving to pass the time on a Friday night…
I have to say, I wasn’t much help at first during our phone conversation. I was just trying to take it all in… I didn't know which surprised me more – the fact that she was calling from a dumpster or that she had dined at Cracker Barrel. Neither really suited Julie all that much.
Always polite and not wanting to hold up dinner any longer, she decided to just remove the plastic trash liner and throw it in the car. On the way out, she cordially told Cracker Barrel’s manager that she was taking the garbage with her and please be sure to replace the bag in the Ladies room.
Sadly, the ring was not to be found in either of the “souvenir” sacks she brought home from her day of trash picking. She spent the next week compulsively going through her jewelry boxes and drawers – wishing for the first time in her life that perhaps she had reached an age where you begin to misplace things in your own house. Maybe she never put the ring on in the first place! Maybe she’d found a super-secret safe spot for it and had just forgotten. Alas, no luck. No ring.
After a week of recounting her sad tale to anyone who’d listen...an acquaintance randomly suggested Julie post the ring in the “Lost and Found” section on Craig’s List. Only dimly hopeful, that’s what she did. Then, she went back to the jewelers to get an estimate for the ring’s replacement value. Turns out, she’d probably have to start saving now in order to afford her own ring again by the time she turned 60. Apparently, due to the rising price of gold, it was quite a good investment -- that is if she still had the ring, which she didn’t. By now, Julie was positive she’d never see her beautiful birthday band again.
Then came the e-mail from someone Julie didn’t know named Cara, who wrote, “I found a ring that might be matching the description of the one that you lost. I have been looking in the lost and found. I just happened to look on Craig’s List tonight.” Turns out, the whole time Julie was rummaging through restaurant trash bins and turning her dresser drawers inside-out, Cara was scouring classified ads in the local papers looking for the missing ring’s owner among the lost puppies and pets.
She asked Julie to send her a picture of the ring. Cara knew the gold band was special – clearly unique and quite beautiful -- and didn’t want to return it until completely sure Julie was the rightful owner. You never can tell…
After a few e-mail exchanges and a phone call, Cara was convinced she had found a match! Julie still couldn’t quite believe it. Things like this just don’t happen as a general rule. But when Cara said she’d found the ring in the parking lot at Pantops, Julie’s hope swelled. Calling me with the news, she could barely breathe she was so excited. And though truly jubilant (i.e.: joyful, turning cartwheels, skipping down the hall) at the thought of her exquisite commemorative ring wrapped around her finger again...she was even more in awe that someone – a perfect stranger – would go to so much trouble to do the right thing.
And that’s just what Cara did, too. She could have kept the ring or turned around and pawned it for a nice chunk of cash. Instead, she spent weeks trying to find the owner because -- as she told Julie – that’s just how she was raised. The ring meant nothing to her, but she knew it must mean a great deal to the person who’d lost it. So she did exactly what she would have wanted someone to do if it were her missing ring. Simple as that.
Back at Starbucks Pantops -- exactly one month after Julie’s dumpster search -- she and Cara met for coffee and the happy return of the ring. To show her sincere appreciation, Julie gave Cara a lovely hand-written thank you note. Inside the card, she folded some cash. It was difficult to know what to give someone in exchange for this depth of honesty and integrity. Julie hoped it would be enough to truly convey her gratitude.
And, not expecting anything in return, Cara gave Julie two gifts: the safe return of a prized possession and a renewed faith in the kindness of strangers.
Co-written by Julie Trump