The Kindness of Strangers

Last week when I was writing about the hallway of transition an unexpected visitor arrived at my imagination’s door, unbidden. Without calling ahead, Blanche Dubois aimlessly wandered across my visual landscape in her rhinestone tiara and yellowing ball gown, looking forlorn and rather lost.

And then, back in the real world, I serendipitously discovered that Cate Blanchett recently played Blanche, and in fact toured the show to New York in December.

So I figured I better trust this bit of coincidence, and let Blanche intrude a little here.

POOR BLANCHE.

If ever there was a fictional character who had more than her share of transition, she’s it.

I mean, consider her story.

A high school English teacher, unlucky in love (her young husband killed himself). She’s the last one standing at Belle Reve, the family home, left to bury her few remaining relatives after generations of drunkenness, debauchery, disease, and death.

Of course, she can’t hold on, and the old plantation slips through her fingers.

So she’s forced to live in a series of seedy, low-rent hotels. And finally, when her nerves and grasp of reality are at the breaking point, she boards the bus for New Orleans and moves in with her sister, Stella, and Stella’s brutish husband, Stanley Kowalski.

It’s enough to put any fading Southern belle on edge, don’t you think? But wait, we’re not finished yet.

Stanley? He doesn’t cotton so much to Miss DuBois. His animal magnetism mixes with her genteel flirtiness like oil and water. Yet for all that, there is a promise of something better. Stanley’s friend, Mitch, likes Blanche a bunch. And she sees a future there. A way out of the in-between space of her life.

Leave it to Stanley, though, to mess things up.

He goes hunting for dirt about Blanche and hits the mother lode. No prim and proper lady is she, it turns out. As a matter of fact, she seems to have a proclivity for too much Southern Comfort and too many dalliances with very, very, very young men. So much so that she was, quite literally, run out of town.

All hell breaks loose when Mitch finds out. Screaming ensues, and a rejected and dejected Blanche descends into a pit of delusional despair punctuated by the entrance of Stanley.

As these two opponents circle for their final encounter, it’s sadly clear who will win the battle.

And when Stanley overpowers her and carries her off to the bed, we all know that Blanche is doomed to be a shell of her former self.

At the final curtain, we see Blanche leaving for the state-run psychiatric hospital (probably called an insane asylum back in those days) that will likely be her final home. Yet in that most bleak moment, she reaches for light, when she confides to the doctor leading her away:

Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

And with those words, she reminds us that kindness, or at least our confidence in it, may be found in the most unlikely places. That it shows up when we least expect it. And sometimes we have to ask for it.

Kindness. Yes. Now I know why Blanche wanted to linger awhile in my imagination.

Let’s hope none of us will ever be knocked around by life as much as Blanche. Or retreat to such depths of desperation. Actually, I suspect most of us look at Blanche and see a rather foreign character, someone not much like us at all.

As strange as it may seem, though, one of the reasons this character is so enduring is because she is familiar to us.

Consciously or unconsciously, we recognize deep archetypal patterns or stories in her.

We will all have our bottom of the barrel experiences. Sometimes when we’re in transition. It comes with the territory. And during those darks nights we’ll be fragile, just like Blanche. But will we know enough to reach out for kindness?

I wonder. Because we can be so very hard on ourselves.

Believe me, I know about this. I’m really good at picking up on thinly veiled self-rejection. And not just in my clients or myself, but in friends, relatives, acquaintances. I don’t know why, maybe I’ve got good radar or something. Or people feel comfortable talking to me.

Whatever it is though, we certainly do chastise when we don’t think we have it together. We compare ourselves to others. We should ourselves into a stupor. We ask the most hurtful questions: What’s wrong with me? Why haven’t I got it all figured out?

We are often strangers to being kind to ourselves.

But Blanche, I think she had that one figured out.

Well, okay, maybe her way through the dark was also a lemon coke with chipped ice and a shot of bourbon. My beverage of choice is a little different though…

Mix equal parts of deeply nurturing yourself and noticing the sweetness surrounding you that needs to be enjoyed right now, shake well, then top off with a splash of reflection, asking: what am I tolerating and where am I settling in life?

I call it the be extra kind and good to yourself cocktail.

Sip slowly. Listen. Sincerely listen to yourself. Listen to what you truly need.

Listen as if your life depended on it.

*********************************************************************************

WHY NOT START NOW?

P.S. After I finished this I made a visit to Glenn Berger’s Blog, Finding the Lost Heart. There I discovered a beautiful, inspiring piece about having all you want in life (with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek title). In it, Glenn talks about the importance of listening. Another lovely serendipity. He encourages us to practice what he calls the four listenings. Here’s a snapshot:

  1. Listen to Yourself: Introspection, Heart, Body, Emotions, Imagination
  2. Listen to Nature: Patterns, Growth, Harmony, Sustainability
  3. Listen to Culture: Art, Philosophy, Film, Poetry, Architecture, Science, Technology
  4. Listen to Others: Connection, Intimacy, Encounter, Relationship

Go read more if you get a chance. I can’t think of a better way to be kind to yourself today.

25 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Great stuff. This may be an odd comment but I have been rather scattered the last few days with all that is going on in my life. That said i found your post today to be distinctly readable, not to say your other writing is not just that today’s stood out particularly. The reading of it was nicely grounding four which i would like to thank you.

    I have found in my life the more i focus on being kind to my self the more I am able to be ind to others. Kindness does not always manifest its self in giving someone what they want. Instead it gives them what they need.

    • Well said, Quinn. Being kind to ourselves is so important if we are to be kind to others. And I like how you picked up on needing vs wanting. Thanks so much for you affirming words. I appreciate them!

  2. You know, I’ve only seen the movie once many years ago and didn’t get what was so interesting about Blanche but you’re showing me a side of her that’s strangely endearing that I’ve never considered before. Reading this makes me want to watch it again.

    Anyway, this post, for me, is confrontational in the very best way possible. After reading this, I find myself asking, “Why didn’t I find Blanche compelling?”, “Did I at least have sympathy for her?”, “Am I kind to others? To myself?”

    And then I get to the bottom and find myself wanting a shot of your specially concocted coktail! Because we need to nurture ourselves first before we can be nurtured by others amd be nurturing to others. And we need to notice the sweetness, the little gentle moments, the stillness; because when we can savor joy at its simplest form, then joy will come easily. And of course, reflection, and listening, because if we don’t we’d be no different than being blind and deaf.

    Thank you for this powerful post.

    • Thank you, Belinda. You so perfectly illustrate what I was talking about. You began to question yourself: Why don’t I get Blanche? What’s up with that? But there’s nothing up with that and you don’t have to compare yourself to me or anyone else. And yeah, we ALL need that cocktail. Like you say, self-nurturing is a prerequisite to nurturing others. Otherwise, we’ll just always be burned out and doubting.

      p.s. the movie is pretty good, but if you ever get a chance to see a really good production of the play, it’s an amazing experience.

  3. Well Patty, like my video game post didn’t resonate with you, I’m afraid this one is outside of my normal scope of movies. Movie aside though, I do like where you ended up. Kindness is so important, but often forgotten in the hustle and bustle of daily life. We’d do well to practice kindness daily, to ourselves and to others. Nice drink too, I usually just go for Bacardi and Sprite. 😉

    • Good one, Eric! Yeah, I don’t imagine you’ll be running out to get this one. But if a good production of the play ever comes around to you, go see it. Done well, it is a mesmerizing evening of theatre. I like that – “we all do well to practice kindness daily, to ourselves and others.” Couldn’t have said it better. Cheers! (I’m holding up an imaginary cocktail).

  4. Hi Patty. Cate Blanche seems to have had a pretty sad life from the way you described the events of her past. I’m glad she carried on though and found kindness in people she didn’t even knew. Life might not always go the way we want it to and often times, we will find kindness in the most unexpected moments. Thanks for reminding us its importance. 🙂

    • Hi Hulbert – She did have a sad life, but you know, I think she was a survivor. In fact, the author of the play, Tennessee Williams, said that he believed she would be okay in the end. I really like your point about the hope that we will find kindness even if things don’t work out the way we think they will. Well said! Thanks.

  5. Strangers can be angels. But you’re right: let’s depend first on the kindness we bestow upon our own inner stranger. Your cocktail is a great weekend treat. Let’s fill our cups and enjoy.
    Maryse

    • Thank you, Maryse. I love the way you frame that: our own inner stranger. Beautiful. This weekend I will fill my cup too, and drink a toast to you and everyone else. Cheers!

  6. Wow! This is truly great writing. I love what you have done with this story and the connections you have drawn. If not for the kindness of strangers many would still be in the dark of their night. Yes, kindness to our self is sometimes the most elusive of all, we must remember to be kind to our self as well as to others.

    • Thanks! You captured it in that one word – elusive. I often wonder why kindness to ourselves is so elusive. And for all that’s written about how to improve ourselves, rarely do I see anything about being kinder.

  7. Another well needed post. I was involved in a situation last month where I believe one of my ADHD weaknesses came out and a couple of people looked at me like I was crazy. And believe me I felt crazy.

    I called my friend, her name is Patti, and explained what happened. I knew she would understand because she has the same issues. She said, “Tess you have the feeling of being “exposed” and that’s one of the most difficult places to move through. I knew I didn’t judge myself but it’s almost like I needed her validation to really know I was OK. So we laughed and cried and moved right on through it. It’s called getting on with a little help from my friend! All is well now and I truly can not judge myself for the way my brain works. I can only love and accept my brain and all other parts for what they are. xo

    • Hi Tess – I so love how you’re channeling the Beatles here. I can just hear that song: “I get by with a little help from my friends, yeah, gonna cry with a little help from my friends.” No better song in the world about kindness, if you ask me. And that kindness that you asked for and got from your friend is wonderful to hear about. I really appreciate you sharing your story, too, because you’ve brought up another point that I couldn’t fit in my post – that we often react too harshly when people don’t seem “normal” and what they really need in that moment is a bit more of our kindness, even if they are strangers. Hugs to you my friend.

  8. Street Car Named Desire is such a complex story with very complicated characters. I love your cliff notes of Blanch. Kindness is always a good answer. Although I was kicking people in the pants this week with my drill Sargent post. It wasn’t in a mean spirited way. Great work, as always.

    What I always thought about Blanch and that particular line, was that she states that she is vulnerable up front (which may or may not be true) and places the burden of trust and relationship responsibility on the other person in saying that. Fascinating character study.

    • Yes, Sarge Erin was very kind indeed! Because sometimes we do need a little kick in the pants. I’m really interested in what you say about Blanche, this idea that she states up front that she’s vulnerable. I think she is at the height of vulnerability at the end of the play. But it takes courage to let others know that. Although, if she’s always depended on the kindness of strangers, you’re absolutely spot on – she has placed the burden of trust and relationship responsibility on others throughout her whole life. Who knows, maybe this is a turning point for her? Tennessee Williams thought that she would rise up and make a life for herself and find a different voice. It is certainly true that at the bottom of the barrel, there’s no way but up. Thanks for the conversation!

  9. Hi Patty! Let’s all make that cocktail by the gallon, shall we? It’s like my vitamin called Love Suzen. Boy I sure feel good when I take that one!

    Great look at Blanche – you develop a fabulous blog post from a single thought – I LOVE IT! My mother was a Blanche, poor woman, and seeing that as I was growing up made me (temporarily) into a little angry warrior. Glad I got out of THAT!

    • Hi SuZen – Yes, let’s make up a whole punch bowl full of the stuff! So interesting about your mom. Sounds like you really know this character. And if you became the warrior in response, that’s so like the archetypes in the play: Blanch the Victim facing off with Stanley the Warrior. And like you say, you had to get that part of you OUT, but then could move on. Thanks for the wonderfully insightful comment.

  10. Hello Patty! This is very interesting story and you surely added a wonderful commentary. I rarely read fiction, but visiting blogs like yours allows me to get introduced to characters that I’ve never encountered before. I guess, for me, that’s what you were talking about when you said, “We are often strangers to being kind to ourselves.” I rarely give myself time to read stories. It’s all about facts, facts, and more facts. Thanks for sharing.

    Hope you have a great weekend. =)

    Ryhen

    • Hi Ryhen – Wonderful point you make. We do have a tendency to get caught up in facts. You’re certainly not the only one. I write about things like this because they touch me and speak to me, and as Glenn Berger says in his four listenings, listening to culture (art, story, myth) is part of living a happy, meaningful life. I know you’re a Jung fan, and he would say the same. These myths and stories give us deep insight about ourselves and our world. Thanks for the comment!

  11. Oh Patty, kindness full stop is great to receive.
    That is what is so wonderful in the blogging world. To me there are all of a sudden a lot of kind strangers who listen, really hear me and then offer kindness.

    It would be great to give it to ourselves as well though. so thank you Patty, for your kindness and your recipe.

    PS I would have never guessed your masks, I caught up with reading your lasts posts 🙂
    Trust SuZen an artist to pick the right ones, xox Wilma

    • Hi Wilma – So great to see you here. I know you’ve been super busy! Thanks much for your wonderful comments. And how true about blogging – so many supportive, kind, loving people! Love, Patty

  12. Blanche is NOT a victim, unless one attempts to imply that in a cosmic sense we are all victims of our plight of having to live in this world and deal with misfortune.
    Blanche used her charm to gain the affections of her husband.
    Why? So she could rely on his kindness, we assume.
    What does that mean?
    Blanche wanted her to change her husband and “direct his kindnesses” to her ends.
    Lest we forget, he killed himself for a reason.
    She acknowledges she was the reason.
    She was fired from her job as a teacher because she was having inappropriate affairs with her young students.
    There is a word for this; it’s first two syllables are “pedo.” I won’t sully your blog with the word.
    Blanch wants to “use” Mitch and that is made very clear in the play.
    Stanley does not like that and he does not trust Blanche, for good reason.
    Blanche is a liar.
    There is nothing “genteel” about Blanche, except that she is overly “affected” with an undue sense of self-importance (which one must really stretch in order to meed the demands of genteel, which is Williams’ point). Blanch is a snake and a blight, she is a ravenous she-wolf, in sheep’s clothing.
    Blanche puts on airs in order to hide her true nature which is: absolute selfishness and relentless pursuit of her desires, to the point of the destruction of others.
    Blanche destroyed her husband’s spirit. She destroyed the lives of countless boys and there relationships within their families and communities. She wrecks havoc in the lives of the men with whom she has had “professional (read: prostitution)” relations.
    What possible end might her relationship with Mitch come to?
    Are we to believe she will give up her preference for young boys? The play indicates otherwise.
    Is Mitch a real human being or just another “chump” for Blanch to use? Clearly he is a chump for Blanche; he is a toy for her amusement.
    Do we care about Mitch or is he too gullible to warrant our kindest regard or even our kind consideration? I think Williams really makes a great point here. Is Mitch “asking for it” or is he just a nice, simple guy “looking for love in all the wrong places?”
    No one really likes Stanley. I don’t like Stanley.
    However, he is is Williams’ perfect foil, isn’t he?
    Williams wants us to sort out what is right and what is wrong, even when the personalities of the players’ are not to our liking.
    One cannot abide the man but in this particular situation, he is absolutely right about Blanche.
    In the end, Blanche gets a “kind” face and a phony reassurance, as she takes her stranger’s arm and he leads her off to the “sanitarium.”
    Blanche gets a mirror reflection of herself as her just deserts, in the end: a pretty and pleasant facade, hiding a myriad of pending horrors.
    Everyone knows what these places were like back then and everyone knows what is about to happen to Blanche!
    The jig is up but like every salesman, she pays top dollar (buys the offer, hook, line and sinker) because she wants others’ to believe her lies, so she invests herself in the lies of her new “stranger.”
    This is exactly what Blanch has offered to everyone in her life, all along.
    This is known as having one’s “chickens come home to roost.”
    This is the mastery of Williams.

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