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Lend help in times of trouble

We experience simple acts of kindness from strangers in our everyday lives. Someone holding a door open for you, or returning a $10 bill that you might have dropped while paying for that Fat Indian sandwich at the Grease Trucks.

However, this feeling of kindness and generosity from strangers is exponentially magnified during a catastrophe — a feeling that you can imagine, but don't truly understand until you experience it.

It's a feeling I experienced close to the end of my freshmen year of college. I was shopping with my mother at Sam's Club when she unexpectedly received a call. She said it was my father and that we had to rush home. As I pulled up to my blocked one-way street, I could see five large fire trucks placed strategically around my four-story apartment building. There were two ambulances towards the end of the block and a few police officers close to where the street was blocked off.

I saw the dismayed look on my grandmother's face as she sat on the porch of my neighbor's home. My father was close to the perimeter the firefighters set up, prohibiting any person from entering. His exterior seemed unshaken and he gave me a faint smile, but I knew he was broken inside.

The firefighter controlling the perimeter and the large crowd that gathered asked if we were residents of the apartment on fire — apartment 3. It was my apartment. The fire marshal instructed us that the fire had started in the first room closest to the entrance, which was my room.

After an hour passed, I was allowed to enter the scorched apartment. The smell I encountered upon entering the apartment was one of the worst I ever experienced, and one that I'll never forget. The once off-white walls were charred black. My room was bare — the beige carpet had vanished and I could see the wood structures behind the walls that once held my baseball cards.  

I saw the baseball mitt that I won my first little league championship with was destroyed, wet from the fire hose's streaming water. The fifteen or so pairs of Air Jordan sneakers that I spent hard summer hours working in fast food restaurants were burnt. And my yearbooks, ranging from first grade through high school, were reduced to ash.

I lost most of the material possessions I owned, but I was still strong. I had to be for my parents, whose inner wills seemed so torn, even though they tried not to expose it. I promised myself I would remain strong. And I was, until I walked back outside and saw what was waiting.

There was a stout man with a baseball cap that had a red and white logo that read, "Red Cross." As I neared him, I heard what he was saying to my father and the rest of my family that had arrived since. He said he was sorry for what happened. He went back to his truck and brought out some paperwork. He handed my mother a credit card and told her that there was $500 on it. He also gave us kits with some candy bars, hand sanitizer and napkins. This man even offered us a hotel to stay in until we could find a temporary home.

Hearing this, I was heartbroken. Not from all that we had lost or the distress I saw on my parents' faces but from the pure generosity that I never expected. I fought off tears that were building up and felt the intense pain in the back of my throat. I couldn't believe that this organization that came on its own free will was willing to give so much to us.

It's still hard for me to explain in detail how I felt at the time, but it was a feeling that I had never felt before — an overwhelming sense of surprise, gratitude, confusion and lovingness all mixed into an intense cocktail filled with various hormones.

I'll never forget this experience, for it gave me a new trust for mankind. It defeated the cliché that this was a dog-eat-dog world. Although we all competed against each other for internships, placement into graduate programs or prestigious honors, people really care for one another.

As the recent catastrophe hit Japan, I thought back to my own experience and how much the generosity and kindness of strangers really helped me to continue living my life after such a tragic incident. These were people that contributed, knowing that they were doing some good for the world, gaining nothing more in return than a fuzzy warm feeling.

Although I'll never be able to know who contributed the valuable aid to my family, I remain eternally grateful for what they've done. It's often hard giving blindly, not knowing who will receive it and what they'll do with it. But we should continue to give.

You can help give basic aid to the people of Japan by going to www.redcross.org. You can also text "REDCROSS" to 90999 or "JAPAN" to 80888, and $10 will automatically be donated and added to your next cell phone bill.


Amit Jani is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies with a minor in political science. His column, "The Fourth Estate," runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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