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"If Not For the Perfect Stranger" Discussion Guide

Edited by Steve Alexander and Diane Montiel


1.  The book opens with a quote from Anne Lamott. “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace-only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”  What does this quote mean to you?  How does this quote set the tone for the rest of the book?

2.  The importance of the Boston Marathon in the running community plays a strong role in many of the stories.  Do you have any new insights into the history/importance of the Boston Marathon?

3.  Even though the setting for the book is the 2013 Boston Marathon, did you find universal themes about heroism, kindness and gratitude throughout the book? Were there stories that were particularly resonant for you? Have you ever been a hero? Have you witnessed heroic acts? Some of the stories are about a simple act of kindness…a hug or a cup of water.  Explore examples of kindness in your life?

4.  What are the messages in this book? What new insights have you gained from reading these stories? Was there a story that had the greatest impact on you while reading the book?  Lessons learned?

5.  Katie Lannan, columnist for the Lowell Sun, describes the Boston Marathon as everything that’s right with the world. Why would she say that? What “everything feels right with the world” experiences have you had in your life?

6.  Carol Downing, a stopped runner and mother of two injured daughters at the finish line, shares her story about that day and introduces us to three runners and two spectators. How did Stephen Pater, Patty and Tim Island, Chris Spielhagen and Amanda North become “perfect strangers” for Carol’s family that day? What would you have done in these circumstances?

7.  Some of the stories describe injuries and physical and emotional pain in detail. What were your reactions to the details? Did you find these details upsetting? Were they necessary in the telling of the stories?

8.  The volunteer doctors and medical tent nurses stated that lives were saved because of the “average Joe” jumping in to help that day. One doctor, Chad Beattie, said, “Everyone who was injured had someone. There was so much so consoling, so much compassion.” Explore other examples of how perfect strangers stepped in that day and saved lives.

9.  How do you think the lives of the victims, responders, runners and spectators were changed by their 2013 Boston Marathon experiences?

10. Were you surprised by the kindness and heroism displayed that day? Did you personally connect to any of the stories? Have you ever helped someone in a crisis situation? Have you received help?

11. How did coming face to face with the runners, spectators, first responders and injured from that day impact your perception about the events of April 15, 2013?

12. Each stopped runner shared the challenges they faced when they were told the race was over. Were there consistent themes throughout the runner stories?

13. One of the reviewers said “If Not for the Perfect Stranger” reveals an almost contagious human decency in the midst of a crisis that will warm the heart of the most hardened cynic. Your thoughts?

14. What elements of your faith’s teachings did you see in these stories?  How did theory match with reality?

15. Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”’  What are your thoughts about this quote?

16. Some readers have mentioned that “Perfect Strangers” is a difficult book to read for them.  Was that true for you? Why?

17. Several runners discuss the regret of not expressing gratitude or not being able to follow-up with their perfect strangers. Why was/is it so important for them to re-connect with their perfect strangers?

18. Did you find humor in some of the stories? What stories? Is it possible to be in a crisis situation and still find humor?  Would you like to share an experience?

19. The great majority of the runners, spectators, first responders, medical volunteers and the injured came back for the Boston Marathon 2014. Why do you think it was so important to return? 

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