Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

I can't believe that the weekend has rolled around already and that it is time for the next round of Ten Things of Thankful, hosted by the lovely Lizzi of It has been a hectic week over here: my son packed up and left for a three night Cub camp with 700 other cubs, my partner's good friend from Sicily has come to stay with us and one day I looked after a friend's baby while she had her first day back at work, so I had a tiny taste of what it's like to have twins. Luckily, her baby was very well behaved - not like my little rascal!

The most pivotal part of the week occurred at the end of last weekend, when I called my parents' house in the evening. I had been expecting a call from my mum during the afternoon, but it hadn't come.

"I thought you were going to call me this afternoon", I said when she answered the phone.

"Sorry", she answered, "I had so much to do. Dad was in a car accident this afternoon".

And then she paused for what felt like an eternity, but what I suppose was only a matter of seconds.

Then she said: "He's alright. Both the cars are write-offs, but both the drivers are unharmed".

It was one of those moments where you count your blessings all at once. But out of this accident came a tale of the kindness of a stranger, which got me thinking throughout the week of other times when strangers have spontaneously offered help without expecting anything in return. So, starting with the stranger who helped my dad after the accident, I'd like to share them with you:

1. When my dad had the accident, he was on his way to pick my mum and my son up from the theatre where they'd just been to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. A man who lived in the house nearby heard the collison and came running out of his house. Not only did he help write down all the necessary details about the incident, he also offered to drive my dad to the theatre. There he picked up my mum and son and drove all three of them back to my sister's house. From what was an extremely frightening experience, my family has this to take away: for all the violence and greed that there is in this world, there are still selfless, beautiful people in it who step up to help others without even thinking twice.

This is the moment that got me thinking about all the others ...

2. Once I had to drop off my son's dad at the airport. I spent longer inside the airport than I had planned and when I got back to the carpark afterwards, I realised I didn't have enough money to pay for the parking. I turned to my son's grandmother, who had come along with us and asked her if she had any change, and she said no. A young woman who had been paying for her own parking at the time and had heard our conversation, turned to me and said, "How much money do you need? You can have all my change".

3. On the topic of aeroplanes, I was on a flight once with my son and because he was still a baby, he sat in my lap the whole time. When the meal arrived, it was impossible for me to eat because there wasn't room to bring the tray-table down while he was on my lap. The woman sitting next to me said "I'll just quickly have my lunch, then I'll hold the baby for you and you can have yours".

4. When I was around nine years old, I wanted desperately to learn how to rollerskate. It really was the coolest thing to do at the time! One day, to my absolute delight, my mum took me to the skating rink and we hired a pair of skates. Unfortunately, when I hit the rink I discovered that skating was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. I put one foot forward and fell over. I got up, flapped my arms around like a chicken, and fell over again. And again and again and again. Then two girls who would have been around 12 or 13 and had obviously been skating for years, rolled over to me and said "Would you like some help? We can teach you how to do it if you like." They supported my elbows while I tentatively got used to the wheels on my feet. They must have spent almost two hours helping me and by the end of it, I was zooming along like the cool kids :)

5. My partner was at our local supermarket recently and as is so often the case, he was trying to get the shopping done at lightning quick pace so he could get home and start some other domestic task (bless him). In his haste, he accidentally left one of the shopping bags on the counter in the supermarket. He didn't even realise until a teenage boy appeared beside our car as my partner was packing the boot and said "Excuse me, you left this in the supermarket." There were about $50 worth of groceries inside.

6. I took my son to a wildlife park several years ago. It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision and I didn't pack any snacks because I knew the park had a kiosk and I planned on having lunch there. When we were visiting the kangaroos at the section of the park just about as far away from the kiosk as you could get, my son suddenly became ravenously hungry. A couple with a small baby heard me explaining to him that I didn't have any food and that he'd have to wait until we got back to where we could buy some. "You can have this", the man said, offering my son a banana, "We've already eaten so we don't need it". 

7. When my daughter was just a few weeks old, I ventured out to the shops on my own with her. I didn't have too much trouble assembling her pram, but when it was time to get her back in the car and go home, I could not for the life of me figure out how to collapse it back down again. I was just about at the point where I was ready to leave the pram in the carpark and drive home without it, when a very kind young man whose car was parked near mine helped me to collapse it down and get it into the boot. I wrote about that day here.

8. When I was 19, I lived in the heart of Sydney. At around 10am one morning, I was walking down Glebe Point Rd on my way to uni. On the way, I had to pop into the post office then go and bank my weekly earnings (I got paid in cash). I walked out of the post office with my purse in my hand and was just about to put the purse into my bag when I was knocked to the ground by a man who snatched the purse out of my hand and took off, leaving me stunned and sore on the pavement. A boy who couldn't have been much older than I was who had been waiting for a bus with his aunt across the street, saw what had happened and sprinted across the road in hot pursuit for the thief. He didn't come back for about ten minutes. His aunt came across the street to see if I was alright. She was clearly concerned for her nephew. "He's just a country boy visiting me from South Australia for the week. He doesn't know how dangerous the city can be", she told me. He came back soon afterwards. He had chased the thief down several alleyways and back streets until he had dropped my purse. The boy handed it to me and while the money had all been taken before the purse was dropped (obviously this was a professional thief we were dealing with!) my driver's licence, bank cards and all other  forms of identification were still safe. He did something extremely brave and saved me literally hours of time in phone calls and running around that it would have taken to replace the contents of the purse.

9. I was rushing to catch the train to work once when it suddenly start to pour down with rain and I hadn't come prepared with an umbrella. A lady who was walking in front of me turned around and saw me, stopped and said, "Why don't you share my umbrella with me?". She saved me turning up to work looking like a drowned rat.  

10. Yesterday, I went on a four hour bus trip with my daughter from the town that we live in all the way up to Perth to visit our family. About ten minutes into the trip, a man got on the bus and made his way down to the very back where we were sitting and plonked him across the aisle from us. I suppose the best way to describe his appearance would be to say that if I were to meet him in an alleyway on my own, regardless of the time of day, I would fear for my life. Added to that, he pulled out a bottle of wine from his backpack and started swigging it surreptitiously throughout the journey. He did not smell nice. I avoided eye-contact with him at all costs. I wished he would disappear. After about an hour, the bus stopped in one of the towns and the driver announced that there would be a half hour's rest stop. He also announced that they was a shop nearby where you could buy hot food. My daughter had fallen asleep in my arms by this point, so I wasn't going anywhere. Suddenly, the man across the aisle turned to me and said "Do you want me to get you any food from the shop? How about a pie?" I was a bit taken aback. "Oh, no thanks, I said, "I can't eat gluten". "Oh right", he said, "What about a sausage roll?" "Can't have that either". "A pastie?" he tried again. "It's okay, I'm not hungry", I told him, "but thanks for offering". He got off the bus and headed towards the shop. When he came back, he handed me a bar a chocolate, a triumphant smile on his face. "There you go", he said "I asked the lady in the shop and she said it's gluten-free!" "Thank you", I replied, taking it from him. I didn't really want the chocolate, but he so desperately wanted to be kind. I had been so quick to judge him. As I ate the gift he had given me, I told myself off. You don't know what he has suffered in his life, I thought. Yes, he is clearly an alcoholic and a very intimidating looking guy, I thought. But he is also a human being.

These strangers all walked into my life, or the lives of my loved ones, just for the briefest of moments, never to be seen again. In most cases, I didn't even know their names, or if I did, I have now forgotten.

Each time we turn on the TV or the radio or open the newspaper, we are confronted with stories and images of evil and horror. It's easy to forget that there is still so much goodness in our broken world. Let's spare a thought today for all the strangers who have ever shown us kindness, not because they wanted praise or reward or recognition of any kind, just purely and simply because they wanted to help another human being.

                                                Ten Things of Thankful

Have you ever been helped by a stranger?

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