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She was bracing for her boyfriend's anger. Then a stranger stepped in

When Renée's boyfriend couldn't find his passport at the airport, she felt his anger rising.
Getty: Westend61
When Renée's boyfriend couldn't find his passport at the airport, she felt his anger rising.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

This week's story comes from a woman named Renée. We're using only her middle name at her request because of privacy and safety concerns.

In 2016, Renée was struggling to leave a relationship. She felt that her boyfriend put her down and made her feel small. But she struggled to stand up for herself.

"I clearly had no self-confidence, and it was just a really tough time," she said.

Renée and her boyfriend were living thousands of miles away from where they had both grown up. They'd often travel back home to visit friends and family.

One day at the airport, her boyfriend couldn't find his passport. He looked for it everywhere. And then his frustration began to build.

"I became nervous because I was mentally bracing myself, knowing that he was going to take it out on me," she said.

They tried to retrace their steps as best they could. She asked him where he had last left it. And then his mood took a turn for the worse.

"That's when he aggressively snapped at me," she said. "I don't even remember what he said, but it was sharp. It was hot. It felt horrible. And when he was aggressive like that, it just hits you like a punch in the stomach. Like you just, you feel so alone."

Out of nowhere, a man approached them. His eyes were wide, and he was looking straight at her boyfriend. The man politely asked if he had checked the pockets on his backpack. When her boyfriend responded, his voice became quiet.

"The man looked at me and he didn't say anything to me. But he looked at me as if, to say, 'I see you,'" she said. "And it was such a brief moment. It was seconds. But him stepping in, it just immediately defused the situation."

The man's gesture of support made Renée feel that this was not her fault. And it reminded her that there are still good people in the world, trying to look out for you.

"I felt validated. I felt stood up for. I felt cared for by a total stranger," she said.

"He was a bright light in a very dark tunnel. And he was my hero. And I truly thank him for that."

Renée says she is now in a healthy relationship. She credits the stranger in the airport for helping her remember that she is worthy of compassion.

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to

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Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Autumn Barnes