Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Thank You, Stranger: 'When I needed help, I got help from you.'

Two people smile for a selfie
Perry Schussler, left, and their wife, Lizzie Ehrenhalt, in 2016.
Courtesy of Perry Schussler

Imagine you are in a tough spot and someone goes out of their way to help. But you miss your chance to show your appreciation. That is almost what happened to Perry Schussler, the storyteller in our latest episode of the series, Thank You, Stranger.

It’s all about small acts of kindness that have a big impact on the people they help. MPR news producer Ellen Finn talked with Perry about a stranger who made a difference in their life.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Imagine, right now, you're in a tough spot, and someone goes out of their way to help, but then they disappear before you have a chance to show your appreciation. That's sort of what happened to Perry Schussler-- the storyteller in our next episode of the series "Thank You, Stranger." It's all about small acts of kindness that have a big impact on the people they help. Producer Ellen Finn takes it from here.


ELLEN FINN: Perry Schussler graduated from college in 2006 with a recession on the way and no clear idea what they wanted to do. So they signed up for the volunteer program AmeriCorps and started helping out at a nonprofit in Northeast Minneapolis. Most days after work, they'd wait at a bus stop near the Northeast Library Branch. One evening stands out.

PERRY SCHUSSLER: The bus, at that time, was usually late, I remember being frustrated, and there were lots of people around. And then, someone approached me asking for $1, which, if you take the bus a lot, happens to you all the time, it happened to me all the time, and I was always, like, I'm sorry, I don't. Usually, when that happens, people accept it and walk away and they ask other people at the bus stop, but this guy, he walked away, but then he came back and then, punched me in the face.


ELLEN FINN: He ran away, leaving Perry too surprised to register any pain at first.

PERRY SCHUSSLER: There weren't any broken bones so I wasn't really sure how it had affected me or where the bleeding was coming from, but I knew there was blood. I happened to have a hanky in my pocket. I held it up to my face because I was bleeding from my face. And there were lots of people around. Nobody did anything. I remember hearing one woman say, like, oh, my god, he's crazy, but then everyone just got on the bus. I was kind of hoping the bus driver would notice that I was bleeding and had been assaulted, but he didn't notice. And I was really stunned and just stood there, and the bus left.

One person stayed behind, who I hadn't noticed before. He was, like, a teenage boy.

ELLEN FINN: The teenager asked Perry if they needed help. He called 911 and waited with them until an ambulance came.

PERRY SCHUSSLER: I remember being, like, nothing like this has ever happened to me before, and he was, like, I've seen this on Law & Order. It didn't take too long for the ambulance to show up. I assume, I thanked him, I really don't remember, but I was also really stunned and was just, like, moving in survival mode.

So I wasn't thinking about social norms or like, thank you, what's your name? What's your number? So we parted ways, I got on the ambulance, but the two EMTs, who were in the ambulance, were very empathetic to what happened to me and took me to a hospital in South Minneapolis, near my house.

ELLEN FINN: Once there, Perry had to call Lizzie, their girlfriend at the time, to tell her what happened.

PERRY SCHUSSLER: And she was really worried about me, and she called my sister.

ELLEN FINN: Lizzie drove with Perry's sister to the ER, where Perry kept answering questions from nurses, doctors, and a police officer. Eventually, they had their face stitched up and were clear to leave.

PERRY SCHUSSLER: Then, my sister drove me and Lizzie to where we were staying at the time, and I actually vomited in the bushes outside of the apartment. And I'd never done that before, but I think it was all of the stress kind of manifested in that way. And I was like, I'm not drunk. In case anyone saw me, I was, like, I'm not intoxicated.


Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I had to get my stitches taken out a week after.

ELLEN FINN: Perry made an appointment to do just that. The visit was ordinary, at first. The nurse took basic information and the broad strokes of their story. Nothing too specific.

PERRY SCHUSSLER: She went to get the doctor and the doctor came in, and then she said, let me guess what happened. And then, she proceeded to tell me in much more detail what happened to me than I had told the nurse, and I was like, how do you know that? And she said, my son is the one who was at the bus stop, who called 911 and was there with you.

I burst into tears at that point because what are the chances of that happening, truly? And I really needed something good, at that time in my life. Like, my AmeriCorps job was very difficult, I was very depressed, I was really struggling and felt very alone, and having that happen, I just, I felt safe enough to just let it out.

ELLEN FINN: There was another benefit to meeting the doctor. Perry suddenly had a second chance to say thank you to the teenage Law & Order fan who had helped them. They asked if the doctor would be willing to share her address.

PERRY SCHUSSLER: And she did, and she lived within walking distance of my house. And I walked to their house. I didn't even have to put a stamp on the thank you note.


I was like, what are the chances of this, like, truly? He and I were both in Northeast at that one bus stop at that one time, and we both live on the other side of the city. It was just wild to me.

ELLEN FINN: If you were to talk to that kid-- I guess, he's probably not a kid anymore-- and his parent now, what would you say?

PERRY SCHUSSLER: I would tell him and her, like, I still remember this very well. It left a huge impression on me and when I needed help, I got help from you, and that hasn't happened to me very often in my life. I'm used to dealing with things on my own. I'm not used to people recognizing that I need help and helping me.


So I will always be grateful.

CATHY WURZER: That was Perry Schussler in our latest in the series "Thank You, Stranger-- stories about small acts of kindness that have a big impact on the people they help. And if you've got a story about someone unexpectedly helping you out, well, let us know. You can email us at minnesotanow@npr.org or call our story line at 612-361-1252. That story was produced by Ellen Finn, Alanna Elder, and Melissa Townsend. Music is by St. Paul's Dan Luke.

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