Random kindness, lasting memory

A highlight of our trip was a visit to Grandfather Mountain — the highest point in the Blue Ridge. What makes it different is that it’s privately owned. After an incredibly circuitous trip to get there (we got off the Blue Ridge Parkway too early and had to travel the windiest road you ever saw for 10 miles or so), we swallowed hard before paying the $14 per person admission, spoiled by all the free state parks and roadside vistas we’d seen. But you soon realize why that fee is necessary. Someone had to pay for the twisty, turny roads to the top, the observation points, the facilities, including a really lovely nature museum highlighting North Carolina flora, fauna, animals, gems and a small nature preserve with otters, bears, eagles, and deer. The place is really well done, and I enjoyed it a lot.

The centerpiece is the “mile high swinging bridge” (elevation 5305′) — not as scary as I thought it would be, but not for the faint of heart either. The day was rainy — we found out later we’d missed a torrential downpour that morning — so the mountain top was shrouded in mist and clouds. Very little view to speak of; just glimpses when the mist would part briefly before drifting back. I understand you can see for miles and miles on clear days, but, oh well. We were actually walking in the clouds, which doesn’t happen all that often in life.

Since my ankle sprain, 4 months ago now, I’ve had to take it easy. It’s still not fully recovered, and I’m always afraid of turning it again. We hiked about ½-mile up a trail to reach the bridge (we could have driven), so I was already a little shaky. After you cross the swinging bridge, you’re on top of the world. Standing on solid granite, but not all that wide, wet with mist, and full of ruts, rocks, and edges just made for tumbling over.

You can walk out to the very tip — but there was no way I was doing that. I told Mike to go ahead, that I was going to stay right where I was. I was a little annoyed at a guy about my age just standing there, where people were trying to move past. So I stood just below him, trying to stay out of the way (and away from the edge).

He invited me to stand next to him, “There’s plenty of room.”

“No thanks, I’m fine here.”

He must have noticed my shakiness, saying “Well, just grab my arm if you need to.”

That was nice. “OK, thanks,” I said.

“You know,” he said. “It’s not bad to walk out there. It’s pretty flat and there’s plenty of room.”

“Oh, I’m fine here.”

“I’ll walk out with you if you want. You should do it.”

“Well, my husband just walked out there….(i.e., I’m married, if you’re trying to hit on me or something.)”

“I’ll walk you over to him. It’ll be fine. Just go first and I’ll be right behind.”

So we did. Me gingerly picking my way, and him talking quietly and calmly to me (to distract me, I later found out).

I said I couldn’t believe they let people just walk around out here — just steps from tumbling over the mountain, with no guard rails, no giant warning signs, no “WE ARE NOT LIABLE (for your stupidity)” messages. He chuckled and said, “You must be from up North too.” Turns out he was from New Jersey, and he commented that if this was up there, there’d be bubble gum and graffiti everywhere.

“Look at you!” he said at one point. “You’re doing it!” (That’s me in the red jacket, with him behind me. And yes, that’s a 3-year-old in the GAP sweatshirt in the foreground. But really, it was scary.)

In no time, I was standing next to Mike, saying “This nice man walked me out here.”

I thanked him. He said, “Oh you just needed a little conversation to distract you. It’s easier when it’s not your spouse talking you through it.” (Ha ha, no doubt he was married, or had been.)

He snapped a couple pictures of us with our camera, then disappeared, leaving us to sit awhile and enjoy the misty view and fall colors. I never asked his name, nor he mine. I lost track of him in the people coming and going.


And that was that. I wished I’d said more, told him he should be a counselor or talk people down from ledges or something, with his calm voice and pleasant demeanor. I was actually a little choked up when I thanked him, touched by his kindness, so I couldn’t say much. It’s not often you meet a stranger who just wants to do something nice for you.

A mere 5 or 10 minutes in both of our lives, but a random act of kindness I’ll always remember.

When I was young, I admired clever people. 
Now that I am old, I admire kind people. 
                        ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel


  1. robbie said,

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Those photos are just why we like North Carolina so much. Although I don’t think that narrow, shaky bridge is for me. The terrain doesn’t look conducive for someone with a weak ankle! You’re lucky Mike didn’t have to retrieve you from the bottom of Grandfather Mountain.

  2. WritingbyEar said,

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks, Robbie, for not saying, “You wimp! It’s hardly Mt. Everest.” There were others equally tentative, believe me. I saw one (glamorous, 20-something) woman coming back from the edge who had taken off her platform shoes (yes, platform shoes) and was walking in her socks. I heard another guy say to his hesitating girlfriend, “Heights? This isn’t heights! It’s flat ground.” Clearly not a candidate for “boyfriend of the year.”

  3. mel said,

    Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    it’s beautiful. the whole trip sounds and looks stunning and fabulous. I’m trying not to dislike you intensely. (tee hee, joking!) and yes, those random acts by people we’ll never see–they do impress. I hiked once out west, in the Badlands, and it was a bit unnerving for me b/c I’m easily frightened and not the best on skinny, shaky paths. but a little girl who initially annoyed me (Marie was her name, and she was husky and talked non-stop) ended up being a great distraction, noticing all sorts of things we adults did not. plus, she just brazened her way through so many things I found scary! I was kind of forced to keep up with her. she was probably only 8 or so. I wonder where she is today… that was at least 15 years ago.

  4. WritingbyEar said,

    Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    I hope to go out west sometime and see at least the Grand Canyon. The Badlands would be awesome. I’m definitely not a camper, but hiking is great (as long as there is a hot shower, good meal, and soft bed afterward).

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