The Kindness of Strangers
During the early months of Earthlight (the ISP my family started in the early 90s), there was a frighteningly long period where I had almost no idea what I was doing. These days your average grandparent knows more about computers and the internet than I did. Yet on the desk next to my bed, basked a Sun Microsystems SPARCstation. After a couple months of slow progress, we made the decision to move into an office underneath Ruby in the Dust in Dunedin’s Octagon. Here we hoped that I could focus on the task at hand, and be alone with the terror of not knowing what I was doing.
Slowly over the following months, I learned. I learned to build a 286 from parts and turn it into a KA9Q router. I learned to build a 386 and turn it into a BSD terminal server. I learned about IP networking and how to connect these computers to the internet and hopefully, our customers. In retrospect, what I did was only possible because of how utterly ignorant I was. If I’d understood the magnitude of what was required, I would never have begun.
One of the ways I made it through those first six months was the kindness of strangers. Each day I’d try and solve another piece of the puzzle. Most days I’d fail. Most weeks I’d end up close to tears in frustration. And then something that still seems magical would happen. Sitting in the middle of the floor, surrounded by cables and hardware, someone would walk through the door. They’d ask if we were starting an ISP and I’d point to the mess on the floor and say I was working on it. We’d chat and I’d explain what I was trying to figure out and then — somehow — they’d have a missing piece of information! They’d ask to use the keyboard for a moment, or for a piece of paper to explain something. One time a gentleman even went and bought me the ethernet terminator I didn't know I needed. Over and over this happened.
I wonder if those strangers, whose names and faces I can’t recall, remember those acts of kindness? I suspect they don’t, but I carry their kindness with me every day.
Over the years I’ve noticed a pattern. When somebody makes a point of telling me I helped them out, I rarely remember doing or saying what they describe. That the most meaningful things I’ve done for others, were often inconsequential to me at the time.
I find enormous hope in this. All this kindness and generosity in the world, which is performed almost effortlessly by people who just happen to be in the right place at the right time. It’s a reminder to leave the space in my life for those small acts. And a reminder that I’ll probably never know what they grow into.
To those nameless and faceless strangers. Twenty-something years later, I still remember! Thank you.
PS. There were also family, friends, and acquaintances who were crucial to the success of Earthlight. Those are different stories. 😀
Well that's a lovely surprise, thanks my friend. It's been a very long time! Hope you're doing well.
This was lovely. Being the romantic you are (don't deny it!) its fitting to thank the nameless saviors and in a way preform another one of those acts of kindness by sharing this with us.
Haha! I believe it. You are however one of the people who made it possible, thanks! I remember you at the office one afternoon editing our sendmail.cf. When I asked what you were doing you started to explain and then paused, shook your head, and said "magic". It took a couple more years, and discovering m4, before sendmail became manageable on my own. :-)
I couldn't believe you were doing what you were doing. I knew what to do, and I wouldn't have taken it on!