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I was driving at the height of rush hour on the first really cold day of winter. Some sort of construction bolt was sticking up in the street, and I heard my front tire rupture. I had no idea what to do. At the next stoplight a young man knocked on my window to say that if I pulled over, he would change my flat tire for me. And he did, despite the bitter cold and risk of getting tire grime all over his clothing. We exchanged business cards, and I sent him a Starbucks gift card and a thank-you note. He then e-mailed me to thank me for thanking him!
-- Laura Kotelman, Chicago, Illinois
Last year my 23-year-old daughter, Shannon, was diagnosed with a rare aggressive cancer. When I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, Shannon said she'd like to take a trip with our extended family of 15. I began researching vacation homes online to find something financially feasible. I came across a property in the Bahamas and e-mailed the owner, Ann, describing the nature of our visit. She responded by offering us her house at no charge. What's more, she contacted her friends who own vacation homes and explained our situation so that we'd have other options in case we needed to be close to U.S. medical facilities. Ann's friends offered us houses and condos all over America. Some volunteered frequent-flier miles and spending money for the trip! We wound up staying at Ann's house, but I can't even begin to express how it felt to receive so much love and generosity from total strangers during such a difficult time.
-- Joanne Yoder, Royersford, Pennsylvania
One night in Seattle my girlfriend, Sadie, and I saw a homeless man tie his puppy to a parking meter and head into a supermarket. Unhappy about being left outside, the puppy started barking. The man turned around, shouted "Shut up!" and kicked this poor little dog so hard it lifted off the ground. Sadie, who is allergic to dogs, marched into the store and offered the man $50 for the puppy. He accepted and she took the puppy home, made a few phone calls and within hours found him a home with a couple who live in a farmhouse.
-- Francis Holland, Brooklyn, New York
In college I had a job as a counter person. Every morning the same people lined up for their coffee. Eventually, whenever I saw a regular customer, I'd just hand over "the usual." On my last day at the job I mentioned to a couple of my regulars that I was leaving. They came back at lunchtime with a bouquet of flowers. That gesture made me feel as though I mattered, that I wasn't just another nameless, faceless service provider.
-- Sabrina Regan, Rosedale, New York
I was at my job as a massage therapist in Knoxville when my best friend called from Denver to tell me that her husband had been killed in a car accident. She begged me to fly out immediately to be with her. My next client, a salesperson who flies constantly on business, overheard me comforting my friend and saying I'd try to get a flight to Denver the next day. While I went off to wash my hands, she called the VIP number at American Airlines, arranged a flight for me, and paid for it with frequent-flier miles. I protested, but she said she'd never be able to use all her miles and that my friend needed me. I still marvel at her amazing generosity.
-- Sue Painter, Knoxville, Tennessee
After a weeklong business trip, I was wheeling my bag through the Boston airport at midnight when a young woman approached me. "Excuse me," she said with a French accent. "I have missed my flight home to Paris, and I have here my cat, and do you know where I can go?" She couldn't find a hotel that would take her cat, and her new flight didn't leave until 6 p.m. the next day. As she spoke I sized her up, trying to decide whether this could be a con. Before I knew it I was inviting her to spend the night at my house. (How could I not help a fellow cat person?) She looked surprised but said, "Okay, why not?" I put her and her cat in my spare bedroom, fashioning a litter box out of a file-box lid and mulch from my garden. I lent her a pair of pajamas -- the airline wouldn't release her luggage -- and gave her a short tour of Boston on the way to the airport. A few weeks later she sent me a beautiful linen tablecloth as a thank-you gift. I like to think I left her with a good impression of America and repaid some of the hospitality I'd enjoyed on my many trips abroad.
-- Anne McCrory, Boston, Massachusetts
Years ago I was helping my older sister pack for a move. I was a typical self-centered teen, yet I surprised myself by slipping the jacket I was wearing, which she had admired many times, into one of the boxes so she'd get a surprise gift from me when she unpacked. Not long after that my sister was killed in a car accident. That simple gesture took on a lot of significance. I never got to say good-bye to her, so I'm grateful I had a chance to express my love in even that small way.
-- Shannon Holman, Brooklyn, New York
After working the evening shift as a doorman at a resort in Chicago, my husband, Ben, arrived home in his stocking feet. Apparently a hotel guest had checked in that night facing an early-morning job interview. He discovered that he'd forgotten to pack his dress shoes and it was too late to shop for a new pair, so Ben lent him the dress shoes off his own feet. Fortunately for the man, he wore the exact same shoe size as my husband.
-- Deborah J. Rebolloso, Santee, California
Recently I received a call from a Toyota dealer asking if I'd lost my car keys. I didn't think I had, but when I checked my purse, sure enough, they were missing. A deliveryman found them outside my office building, and when he noticed a Toyota rewards card on the key ring, he took them to the nearest dealership. A guy in customer service traced the rewards-card number, called, and offered to bring me the keys in person, which he did. Pretty amazing, don't you think?
-- Leslie Resnik, Orange, Ohio
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2009.