I took a trip to Louisville last weekend with my mom, brother and sister. There were countless trails and nature reserves near our hotel so one afternoon we decided to go for a hike.
We had an amazing time trekking through Cherokee Park, a 406-acre plot that’s part of the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy. I was laughing the whole time as my sister pretended to be an Australian wilderness guide and marked trees in the wrong direction.
When we got back to the car we met a kind stranger and his puppy. He saw my sister staring at his dog and invited us to pet him. He was engaged and let us in on small parts of his life story. We did the same to him.
He went out of his way to connect with us and, later on, went out of his way to help us.
After our warm chat, feeling the buzz you get after connecting with a stranger, we got in the car and went to leave. The parking lot emptied onto a two-lane road, so my mom assumed it allowed for two-way traffic. She turned left to leave the way we came in only it was a one-way street, garnished with WRONG WAY signs.
Realizing what she did, mom went to turn back in the parking lot entrance, only a hundred feet or so from where we exited. Before she could do so a man jogging by threw his hands in the air and gave her a wild-eyed look like she just insulted his entire family. He pointed at the sign and yelled, “You’re going the wrong way!”
Mom realized her mistake within a matter of seconds, before the jogger needed to intervene, but this man felt so inclined to reiterate what she already knew. And he did so in an aggressive way.
The stranger we were chatting with before witnessed the whole ordeal and stopped his car, waiting for us, then signaled for us to follow him out.
He led us to the park’s exit, which was unmarked and about a 10-minute drive from the trail head. There were no arrows telling us how to get from the parking lot to the park’s exit and multiple wrong turns along the way. We would’ve struggled to find the exit on our own and he recognized that.
Before reaching the main road, he waved and gave us a thumbs up then turned left. I watched his car fade away in my mom’s rear view mirror and imagined him telling his puppy why it’s important to help others. He seemed like that type of person.
His soft kindness immediately overshadowed the jogger’s harsh interjection. We spent those 10 minutes, weaving through beautiful forest, talking about how appreciative we were for him and how he and the jogger exemplify two ways of navigating life.
There was such power in his simple act of kindness. We never shared names, but from the moment we engaged with him, he made us feel welcomed. It reminded me and the rest of my family to approach situations the way he did, the way we should.
In a week, month or year’s time, I won’t remember the impatience of that jogger. I’ll remember the kind stranger who went out of his way to help a lost family.