By some accident of fate, three boys from Saudi Arabia -- between the ages of 19 and 22, so they're still boy-ish to me -- ended up disoriented in our yard last Friday evening. They've been in the U.S. for just a week, all of them beginning classes at an area university next week. One was trying to find his host family's house, and the other two were trying to return to their campus lodgings. They were all working to improve their English, so directions about public transit given with swift taps and slides on a tiny iPhone map were a little too overwhelming to comprehend. After a minute, I decided to simply give them rides to their respective destinations. Neither was much more than a couple of miles, so I could slip out of the dinner party and return in a flash.
These boys were the epitome of grateful. "This is the nicest thing that's ever happened to me in my life," one said haltingly with a look of sheer amazement on his face. When I dropped him off, he shook my hand fervently and said, "I hope you get everything you want." When I dropped off the other boys at the university one said, "I don't speak English well, but I will thank you always." Such heartfelt words of thanks, but far too humbling for me to accept.
I wanted to say please, my young friends, don't thank me. Instead, you can thank the person I met on a train in the Republic of Armenia who walked me up and back down a mountain, through sheep herds and orchards and forests, to help me reach my destination, only to have one cup of coffee before hiking back up the mountain to his home. You can thank the strangers in the Republic of Georgia who welcomed me into their homes and lives after I was turned away from the Georgian-Turkish border two days in a row due to visa issues. You can thank the Norwegian family whose door I randomly knocked on, who welcomed me into their home for dinner when I took a ferry to the wrong island and then gave me a ride to catch the right ferry. You can thank the Syrian families I had just met at 10 in the evening who insisted that I stay with them rather than in a hotel. You can thank the family who stopped to help when my car stalled at a busy intersection in St. Paul, and later insisted on following me to be sure I reached home safely. You can thank the gentlemen by the Mississippi River who gave me quarters for the parking meter last week.
You can thank all of these people and more. But please, don't thank me.