Everyone in Blanche DuBois’ world whom she might have expected to help her out of her dire straights—poverty, exile, delusion—has abandoned her, even her sister, whom she has fled to in desperation even her brother-in-law, model for so many of our fantasies, the loud-mouthed vulgar virile (in our mistaken meaning of the word), Stanley Kowalski, who, mistaking Blanche’s worn flirtatiousness for promiscuity, has raped her and thrown her aside.
Now, consigned to the mad house, Blanche is threatened with a straight jacket when she resists being carted away. The physician—psychiatrist?—who has come to consign her to oblivion realizes that a gentlemanly approach will work when violence fails.
Responding to his gentility as she has always done, Blanche takes his arm to go to the ambulance, saying, “I HAVE ALWAYS DEPENDED ON THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS.”
Many of us, especially we women artists and writers who spend so much time alone, have said, or thought, the same thing.
Just in the last day or so, I have been grateful for the kindness of several strangers: the man who at closing time in the Santa Fe Public Library—one of the great community gathering spaces which welcomes all comers—as we were both leaving into the first snow fall of the season, exclaimed, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”—replacing the threat of slippery roads with a child’s exuberance as the first thick white flakes fell, decorating his red cowboy hat and my bare head.
Then, yesterday afternoon, as I stood in the ancient adobe train station at Lamy, New Mexico, waiting for the one-a-day west-bound train that will bear me, rocking and rolling, to Union Station today in Los Angeles, a ninety-four-year-old veteran of three of our modern-era wars told me his story. He served in World War Two, where he was one of the U.S, troops landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy to terrible carnage (I have seen the American graveyard there). Then he was almost a part of the planned attack on Japan, detailed to cut the foot-thick underwater electric cable that barred U.S. ships from the harbor—“And what chance would I have had of coming out of that alive?”—but saved by “my pal Harry Truman” when he decided to drop the bomb. And then he went to Korea and to Vietnam. His ancient, deeply lined and sun-scorched face revealed nothing but good humor and a continuing appetite for life—and for conversation with the people waiting for the train at Lamy station.
I have a different opinion about the bomb and once had a vigorous argument with my departed mother, God rest her soul, on this subject. But now I hear a testimony I can’t dispute. And may it be this way for all of us, this blessed season, hearing new opinions, based on experience, that contradict a doctrine of faith. To hear, to absorb, and not—for the moment at least—to argue.
Still, I’m wearing my safety pin even though here in the Southwest its message doesn’t seem to have penetrated: I Stand With Minorities. But like the crucifix observant Catholic women used to wear under their clothes, the message of my humble little safety pin will soak through the layers of our denial.
ALWAYS—THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS.