, Derry, New Hampshire


September 5, 2013

Column: Vacation saved by the kindness of strangers

Unlike Blanche DuBois, the tragic Southern belle in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” I have not “always depended on the kindness of strangers.” But I will never forget the time a few decided to intervene.

Several weeks ago my wife, Betty, and I were in Athens. I’d taken my backpack off my shoulders for a few minutes as we waited for our tour guide to walk us back to the bus. A quick conversation with another traveler distracted me just enough so that five minutes later, on the way to the bus, I realized I’d left my backpack behind.

A panic-induced adrenalin rush coursed through my body. I gave Betty a look and said, “My backpack ...” then ran back to the meeting place, praying it would be where I left it.

The passage of time becomes distorted in crisis mode. Senses are heightened. My field of vision shortened, as if wearing blinders. As I neared the spot, I recognized an elderly woman who’d been selling scarves moments before. And she recognized me. She waved her arms to stop me and yelled, “Police! Police!”

A worst-case scenario headline came to mind — American tourist in Athens arrested for assaulting female peddler.

That was one of the milder thoughts that occurred to me as I struggled to make sense of the situation.

As seconds raced by, it became clear this woman wasn’t accusing me of anything. The only word in English she knew was “police,” but she could have been a mime. Her gestures told me that she knew — and saw — what happened.

Then a younger Greek woman appeared, nodding her head and pointing in the opposite direction. “Police,” she said, then added, “no speak English.”

Miraculously, a third woman appeared, younger still. “I’m Italian,” she explained, “but I speak Greek, too. Let me help you.”

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