When has the kindness of strangers shifted the flow of your life or made an unshakeable memory?
My experiences of the kindness of strangers appear to be few and far between. But really, these little gems happen when you least expect them and at that moment, they might seem insignificant. But somehow, they are each heart to heart moments to be treasured.
When we walked part of the Via Francegenia in Italy, my feet didn’t last. By the time we reached Radiciofani I couldn’t walk the day. The kindness of the parish housemaster didn’t need translating. He made it clear, in slow, carefully chosen words that he would arrange for me to travel to Acquapendente. The following morning, I waved Ben and our road companions on their way and sat on the steps in front of Chiesa di San Pietro et Jacobi to wait for my transport.
As I sat on the steps in front of Chiesa a grey-haired, plain skirted lady rounded the corner and walked straight to me. She took me by the hand and led me to the cafe on the corner. “Leave your bag. It’s safe’. We didn’t have a common language. My schoolgirl Italian not strong enough to really understand her local dialect. My mangled Italian and her quiet insistence that I put my Euro coin away. After our cafe, taken standing at the bar, one dark sugar stirred into the dark nutty smoothness and swallowed in three sips, she led me back into the courtyard where she told me she would say a prayer for me and my travelling companions as we inched closer to Roma. Then she disappeared around the corner of the church house with a wave. Like a carefully scripted scene, right on cue, the taciturn septuagenarian driver of the volunteer ambulance arrived.
In the backstreets of Mumbai, sheltering in a sliver of shadow, a Grandma, who was visiting her family, spotted us and appeared concerned that we were standing there in the heat of the day. She insisted on taking us home for chai and shade. Along the way, she sent for her 12-year-old granddaughter who spoke English, to come and translate. We quietly ducked to enter the confined family quarters, aware an adult and baby boy were sleeping on rattan mats under a stand-up fan in the afternoon heat. While Grandma bossed her daughter (or daughter in law) to make the chai, “Hot, hot. No tummy upset”. She was trying to make sure the water was well boiled for us. We chatted with the young girl, she wanted to become an air hostess, her cousin, now also crammed in the door, a doctor. Either way, we were being shown hospitality and the girls were sharing with us their dreams.
Or maybe it was the car of revellers that stopped in a soaking downpour to see if we were ok in Beijing? In a time before ride-sharing was commonplace, we were stuck on the side of the road, not a taxi or auto-rickshaw to be seen. We didn’t jump in that car. It may have been the under chassis lighting or the thump of bass-boosted music coming out of the back that led us to reject the offer. As kind as it was, it was our gut that said, thanks but no thanks. With our only way of making it home, the business card for the hotel we were staying in, we kept pounding the pavement until an auto-rick stopped. Hurtling through the streets, the downpour of acid rain unrelenting, windscreen wipers that didn’t work, a rain cover that did its job in name only, he started taking us home. It turns out, he didn’t know where to go even with the business card! A few nervous laughs later, a phone call to reception, conferring with a valet at a five-star hotel we finally got home to well, wherever we were. We made sure we left the auto-rick with enough extra Yuan, we hope, to get the windscreen wipers fixed!
When I was a new mum still learning the ropes of baby, breastfeeding and being out of the house, a girlfriend, with an equally new baby, and I met for coffee at the Gallery. Unbeknownst to us, a ‘Grandma’ had been watching us. As she got up to leave, she made a point of coming over to tell us what a great job she thought we were doing. That she’d breastfed all five of her kids and good on us for being out and about and getting our boobs out. “Nothing wrong with a mother feeding her baby, don’t ever think you have to hide away.” She didn’t have to say that. But she did. And it was kind of her at a time that I was struggling with that new skill.
While travelling in Australia, at a busy caravan park, a permanent resident stopped Ben. She explained that she had a little bag of trucks and cars that she had forgotten to take out of her car when she last went to the charity shop. Would our little boys like them? Such a treat to discover a couple of Hotwheels, a car with its own caravan and emergency vehicles that made noise (a rare thing indeed in our house). The boys were chuffed to have a couple of new vehicles to begin a collection just for travelling with Cranky.
Coming through a train station the next day en route back to Cranky, DSX was lingering over the bunches of flowers in buckets in front of a newsagent. “Maybe the ‘Grandma’ next door would like some of these?” A small gesture from a small person to say thank you for a kindness. Many a dirt racetrack has been created for these little cars and trucks since. wherever we go.
Children seem to be a gorgeous bridge to new people. Simple exchanges such as the fishermen cleaning their catch waving Xavier and me closer to see not only what they were doing but getting up close to the pelicans standing waiting for their titbits. The lady on the train who offered a little packet of sultanas to Xavier to distract him while I had a distraught baby Seb in my arms. The busy barista in a café in Matamata who took just a couple of minutes to ask the boys about the acorns they had collected and lined up on the table. She showed a genuine interest in Xavier’s explanation of how they would grow up to look just like the big trees over the road.
A suspended coffee at a café, a smile, a kind word in cyberspace, taking home a backpacker to share Christmas with, the random chocolate or flower on the windscreen; all little acts of kindness from strangers that remind you that even when the world seems bleak, people are people and kindness doesn’t take any effort at all.
Kindnesses shouldn’t be a challenge.