It is painfully difficult, at times, to come to grips with people -- and how could it be any other way? We are weak, violent, too often stupid and capable of unimaginable cruelty and loathsome neglect. We murder each other over nothing; starve each other; enslave each other; we abandon or molest or kill our children and prey on the weak and different. If we do not, we tolerate among us those who do. There seemingly are no limits to our depravity.
Any honest evaluation would lead a rational person to conclude there is not much to recommend our survival. At least that is what I used to think.
In my line of work, seeing people as they are is a job hazard. Reporters get to see the worst. There are, after all, no 72-point headlines that scream, "Everything is just peachy; enjoy your day."
Chasing cops around a large city at night or camping out in a courtroom day-in and day-out shreds misconceptions about the dignity of man and all that crap. I had a poster above my desk that proclaimed, "People are no damned good." It was, from my experience, a classic understatement.
So, faced with a daily dose of bad, many of us grow shells. It changes how you see things, especially your view of people you do not know. My wife, a more trusting soul, says it seems as if I always am preparing for the worst; that I live as if the world is packed with very bad people intent on doing harm for little to no reason. Guilty as charged. It happens every day. I know they are out there. I have seen them. Talked to them. Been scared witless by them. In my world, if you are not one of them, prove it.
But now and again, I am completely taken aback. Somebody comes along so far outside the realm of my experience, so foreign to reality as I have known it, that I am flummoxed; somebody whose kindnesses and heart and selflessness leave me humbled, sometimes to tears.
Take this Kristie person, for instance.
She and my wife are in the same demanding line of work, helping people. Some years ago, they met at a conference and hit it off famously. Later, my wife went back to Chicago to take care of her grown son, who was suffering from kidney problems and undergoing dialysis. When she returned to work, she let people in her professional circle know she was back.
She explained where she had been and joked, "So, if you know anybody who has a kidney to spare, I know somebody who would give it a good home."
A minute later, Kristie, from Iowa, said she wanted to give him one of hers. Just like that. Out of the blue. Insisted on it, as a matter of fact.
She drove to Chicago from Iowa several times for tests, was a match, returned later to Chicago and donated one of her kidneys. To a stranger. As if it simply was the right and only thing to do; as if anybody would have done it without a second thought.
The transplant operation was a huge success and, thanks to Kristie, the young man is back teaching and living a full and energetic life.
Fast forward to a few days ago. My mother-in-law is getting older and, needing care, is moving to an assisted-living home. Her cat became a problem. Nobody in the family could take it and my wife tearfully took it to an animal shelter with instructions that if nobody wanted it, she would somehow take it back.
It was a stressful time and Kristie checked in with my wife to see how things were going. When she learned the cat was in the shelter -- and without a word to my wife -- she dragged her husband into her car and set out for Green Bay from Iowa -- in the dead of winter. Within two days, Lucky the cat was living at Kristie's home.
It is difficult for me to grasp this woman's decency and generosity and goodness.
But here is what I know: Maybe I was wrong about that whole "not much to recommend our survival" thing; maybe some of us make the rest of us better and the worst of us not matter.
There is one thing more.
There are, indeed, angels in this world.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.