I went up to Pittsburgh this weekend to visit my friend Debbie Hardin, and had a great time. While I was there, I did a couple of promo classes for Little Hands and Big Hands at the Happy Baby Company, a charming store specializing in cloth diapers and lots of adorable things that make your wallet jump open. (Including Fraggles! As soon as I walked in and saw Mokey Fraggle staring at me from the shelf, I knew I was in a good karma sort of place. And that Mokey was coming home with me.)
Pittsburghers, incidentally, are way less wimpy about snow than Baltimoreans are; despite the fact that the white stuff was coming down all day, eighteen of the twenty-three families with young children registered for the classes showed up!
I stayed at Choderwood, an amazing bed and breakfast on the Allegheny River. I was only there for a couple of days, but I was so impressed by the kindness of every single person I met. Not just smile-and-nod kindness, but super-duper, going-out-of-their-way-even-if-they-didn’t-have to, what-can-I-do-to-make-your-life-better-today kindness. Everyone from my hosts at Choderwood, who put a glass of wine in my hand as soon as I walked in the door, to the lady in the drive-thru at Arby’s who made a routine interaction pleasant and funny, to the security guard in the parking garage who went out of his way to make sure I knew which exit to use. Even the homeless guy ranting to himself as I pulled up in front of the store to unload for my program – when he saw me struggling to lift my suitcase over the slush-laden curb, he rushed over, said, “Let me help you with that, miss,” and insisted on carrying it inside for me.
With every interaction, I felt something inside me thaw a little, and it made me wonder how much distrust of humanity I carry around with me every day. This thought was especially sharp because all of these pleasant experiences were coming in the midst of flurries of posts on Facebook about Saturday’s shootings at Columbia Mall, the mall I hung out in as a kid, and which both sets of my son’s grandparents still live quite near. The sense of safety many of us have had in Columbia and Ellicott City has been shattered, that much is clear. Oh, we all know in our minds that these things can happen anywhere, but in our hearts have we really believed it could happen here? Could we go on about our daily lives without breaking down if we allowed ourselves to think that it could?
Here’s the thing that Pittsburghers taught me this weekend: when people see you and talk to you with kindness, it makes you feel safe. That’s what we need to cultivate, not an armed populace, not metal detectors at the doors, not suspicion and prejudice. I felt very safe in Pittsburgh, even when we were downtown, not because I thought there is no crime there, but because the sense of community fostered by those kind interactions made me feel that if something did happen to me, there would be folks around who had my back. I’m not saying that I have never felt that anywhere else, but I have never felt it as deeply or as surely as I did this weekend. I’m sure that there are jerks in Pittsburgh, too, just like there are everywhere. But I sure didn’t encounter any in the time I was there. So, thank you, Pittsburgh. I’ll be back.