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Saturday, 3 January 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

Rod McKeown's poem, "And Sometimes" is something I am sure most of us empathise with at some point in our lives, and the onset of the January blues adds to the sense of it:

"....The beating of the heart can stifle anything,
Jackhammers and jack-in-the-boxes, anything.
And sometimes the heart beats so fast and so loud
And nobody hears it,
That you find yourself wishing it would stop."

Happily, there is an unexpected ending to the poem...

"And then, someone new moves down the block
And things are different sometimes."

In the post-Christmas, post-New Year months before spring, there is often a sense of gloom around. Anti-climax or just 'more of the same' after the great rush of New Year resolutions. But it's okay. And, whatever the time of year, there are times when, out of the blue, the kindness of strangers reaches right down to the core of our being and lets us know that we're not fighting a losing battle or drifting into oblivion. The kindness of strangers is something that often moves me so deeply it brings tears to my eyes. There are moments when we pass others people like 'ships in the night' and somehow they make a massive difference and we never see them again or have the chance to thank them.

Many years ago, in a feeling of utter despair after a misadventure in France, I arrived penniless in London in the middle of the night and needed to return to Yorkshire. Having already bought a coach ticket (but the coach didn't leave till mid-morning) and having no money for a train ticket, I trudged about and ended up in Victoria Coach Station. It felt safe there because there were people about but around midnight they began to lock the offices and I was cold and very hungry. I went to the offices as they were closing and asked if they knew of safest place for the night. A coach man said, "Only a hotel." I replied, "I have no money." He shrugged and I walked away trudging back to the railway station. Then I heard footsteps behind me and it was the coach man. He said, "I will lose my job if you tell anyone about this, but I wouldn't want my daughter wandering around here at night. You can sleep on a coach. You'll be safe there, and in the morning a man will come on to clean it and I'll tell him you're there." He opened a coach and I slept soundly. In the morning the coach cleaner came and smiled and gave me toast and tea. In the midst of my deepest unhappiness, "someone new moved down the block" and made such a difference. I wanted to write to thank them, but the coach man asked me to say nothing of it, so I never did. It is long enough ago now to say, if he ever reads this, that he really restored my faith in human nature and I wish there were a way to thank him.

Since then, I remember many kindnesses of strangers and I think, when things look gloomy, there are a million angels around us and, to quote George Eliot:
"The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they're gone."


Mikaela D'eigh said...

How beatiful! Your story brought a lump to my throat. It is interesting what just one act of kindness can do for someone and for the others that person may meet along the way.

May your 2009 is filled with such acts of kindness and fairy sitings. ;)

Christina said...

Thank you, Mikaela :-). And may your 2009 also be filled with fairies, angels and lovely meetings with kind strangers (and friends!).
Slightly belated, Happy New Year!