People call it a funny hat. But I take no offense. Because wearing it has changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. When I sport the droopy, round brim, brown leather head piece with chin strap, strangers give me a second look. Most people assume my head cover came from Australia. Perhaps a mutant cousin of the outback hat — you know, what Crocodile Dundee sports over his chiseled visage?

In fact I bought it in Puerto Rico from the hat maker himself. From professors to ghetto kids, pan handlers to train conductors, absolute strangers, people with whom I normally wouldn't converse would speak to me, thanks to the hat. Some would even call me by name because I had inked it and my phone number on the inside brim.

Even I felt compelled to call Nestor in Puerto Rico to convey, through translator, the impact his hat has had on my social life. A college president once told me I was “courageous” for wearing the floppy head piece. Courageous, I wonder? In the Middle East I have experienced incoming rockets and in Oceania I communed with former cannibals. And for wearing a hat, I'm courageous? Kinda makes you think...

Then disaster struck. This summer in France, I respectfully doffed my hat while visiting a cathedral. Someone — during a wedding no less — made off with it. Frantic, I searched everywhere — the pews inside, garbage bins outside. For the first time ever I even entered a confessional. For that's where I'd seen kids from the wedding party fooling around. But no funny hat. For days I fell into a bare-headed funk. And then, not long before flying back from Marseilles to Boston, my daughter Arielle called from home. "Dad," she said groggy because it was 4 am in America, "some lady just called from France. About your hat. Did you lose it or something?"

Turns out that the daughter-in-law of this woman was on the tour of the cathedral just when I was there. She saw the hat on a bench, thought it belonged to someone in her group, and took it for safe keeping. Six weeks later the hat appeared at my door in a shoe box enveloped in stamps — twenty-four dollars worth, give or take a centime. 

I believe, from my mad cap encounters, that you can be distinctive without being provocative, attractive without being fashionable, appealing without being handsome or beautiful. But more important, I believe that the world is filled with compassionate strangers, folks who will go out of their way to remedy the loss, however trivial in the grand scheme of things, of the quirky belongings of people whom they will never lay eyes on. Even a humble hat, I believe, can provide reason for trust in humanity.