finding inspiration in a good deed

Stopping To Picking Up The Pieces

Sometimes, it’s the person who receives the good deed who becomes the inspiration.

San Francisco artist Katherine Valentine (whose painting J Line appears above) was hiking to the top of Bernal Hill one day last spring when she noticed something unusual on one of the quiet neighborhood’s streets.

“That morning I was going up with my dog and I saw this woman in the middle of the street, sweeping up what looked like pieces of a crashed car,” Valentine said. “I thought, I’d be surprised if she wasn’t in her 90s or late 80s, but she was pretty capable still.”

Though the woman seemed to have a handle on her task, Valentine saw an opportunity to lend a helping hand. “I’ve started doing little things lately just to make some human contact,” she told Good Turns recently, “like making eye contact with homeless people, and maybe making physical contact if I can, just to acknowledge their humanity. I don’t just walk by people now, whether they’re homeless or not. Even if you just linger for a second and make eye contact, you’ve had a moment with strangers.”

“I would not have known what an awesome person she was had I not offered to help.”

The woman was delighted when Valentine asked whether she could help. “I just felt like she was exposed to anyone turning a corner or not seeing her because she was kind of slight,” she said. “I asked her, ‘Hey, can I do this for you?’ And she accepted my offer right away. She went inside and came out and handed me some stuff, a paper bag. And then she was just so chatty!”

“It turns out that somebody had hit her car in the middle of the night, just plowed into it,” Valentine says. “What I loved was that her car was a full-on red pickup truck. Looking at this woman and this car, it just didn’t make any sense. The truck was just totally destroyed. It had two bumper stickers, one for Hillary Clinton and another pro-choice sticker. So she’s 80 or 90 years old and super political and super physical, and driving a red pickup truck.”

Valentine was delighted to be in touch with someone who to her seemed so inspiring. “I live just down the street, and I always see little tomatoes sitting on her windowsill,” Valentine said. “I didn’t get to talk to her forever, but I think she lives a fairly active and fairly peaceful life. It was one of those things where I would not have known what an awesome person she was had I not offered to help. I was just so impressed by her. I felt like, oh my god, I want to be her when I grow up. I want my red pickup truck, and my tomatoes in the window. I totally look up to her now, I just think she’s the greatest. I walked away feeling totally charmed by her.”

Valentine’s good turn wound up being as inspiring—and, in the end, comforting—to her as it was to anyone else. “I don’t go on that hike as much anymore,” she said, “but the times I do go up, I look to see that the tomatoes are still there in her window. It’s kind of a sign for me that things are still good.”

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