June 25, 2015

When a Stranger Helps: Is it Love or Pity?

Author's photo: Carmeline Siani

“I don’t ask for your pity, but just for your understanding—not even that—no. Just for some recognition of me in you…” ~Tennessee Williams, Sweet Bird of Youth

I sat behind the wheel of my car, watching my husband as he came out of the Circle K—slightly bent over, shuffling a bit, the coke in his hand trembling.

A big, tough-looking man, wearing a tank top and baseball cap, took hold of the door that my shorter-than-he-ever-used-to-be husband was trying to push through. The man stood aside, gesturing with a chin up nod that my husband should go on through.

That night I was sitting on the edge of the bed in our bedroom, when my husband came in, returning from having gone to that very same Circle K to pick up a newspaper. He sat down on the bed next to me, and I could tell from the expression on his face that something was wrong.

“The hardest thing about this disease is the pity,” he said.

“What pity?”

“The pity people give me. I see it in their eyes. When somebody helps me with a door they have that look—the look of pity.”


I had never seen pity in people’s eyes and told him that I thought maybe he was misunderstanding things.

Having always been a healthy, capable man—he’d never been in a position in which he needed help or one that people could see that he needed it. I told him that perhaps he was misreading the look in people’s eyes and that perhaps he was confusing pity with love.

Not the kind of love that people who know each other give each other, not the kind with roles, expectations, attachments and stories attached to it, but the kind that strangers give to each other—the free, no strings, brief, but-nonetheless-love, kind of love.

“I guess I’d call it: stranger-love,” I said. Then I added that he might consider that he was the one that turning all that stranger-love into pity, because he was the one who was seeing it that way.

He looked at me, and I could see his brain working.

Slowly, in his soft Texas way of speaking, he retorted, “If I look at it at it that way—why, I’d literally be surrounded by love!”

It has always been my belief that if you offer people something tender and real, they will respond in kind—from their best selves. If they see that you are truly in need, they will give what they can and do what they can.

Over time, I saw that my husband—with his frailness and trembling—called forth this stranger-love from many people.

Again and again, I saw waiters help him on with his jacket or hold a chair and wait until he got settled. I saw store clerks carry a single grocery bag out to the car and massage therapists buttoning his shirts, while the next appointment waited.

Since we had that post Circle K conversation, on the edge of the bed, about love versus pity—I saw how my husband had changed. Since then, he had let people respond to him from their best selves. I saw him accept stranger-love.

I thought that as my husband allowed others to help him—allowed the neighbor to bring in the trash cans, allowed the bus driver to count out his change for him, allowed somebody else to cut up the wood we needed for the fireplace that winter—it quite possibly helped them as well. Certainly I saw my husband’s change in attitude about such a simple thing as someone holding the door to the Circle K open for him, change the very world he lived in.

When he let it happen—when he didn’t see pity but saw love instead—everywhere he went, he was surrounded by love.

When we allow ourselves to see it that way, so are we all.



A Gift Received. 


Author: Carmelene Siani

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Author’s own.

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