Saturday, 14 May 2011

Be nice

I have often thought that kindness was underrated. I’m sure it was a lesson taught at Primary School. ‘Be kind to other people’. Back then kindness meant not pushing in, not pinching, and at my rather rough school, not carrying a weapon.

Now, as an adult, I value kindness over almost everything else. I am quite confident that a great deal of the problems in the world could be solved if a dose of kindness was injected.

We sort of expect our friends and family to be kind to us. But when we are befriended in misfortune by people we have never in our lives seen before, well, this is the most striking manifestation of kindness there is.

The other evening, after a real shocker at work that day, I went to the gym, against all of my desperate desires to go home and crawl into my bed. Pleased with myself I staggered (it’d been body pump) home, only to arrive on my doorstep, in my stinking gym kit, sans house-keys. Sitting on my doorstep it started to rain. I was now wearing a damp gym kit with my suit jacket on for shelter and a 1980’s aerobics - style headband. My sense of humour was failing, and the universe was surely having a bloody good laugh.

At that moment, I could have done with a kind passer by. One woman passed by and looked at me strangely. I live in the posh end of town – people do not tend to loiter in doorways. There is something bloody awful about being locked out of your home, and this sneering passer by was no Good Samaritan.

The last time I was locked out, I’m glad to report that a kindly couple did more than sneer. 

I was in New Zealand a few years back and living in a campervan. In my rose-tinted memory this was a bohemian and freeing experience. If I really think hard though, the reality was ice on the inside of the windows every morning and a fair amount of wee-ing in bushes.

But it was, for that period of time, my home. And one day, when my boyfriend ‘misplaced’ the van keys, I was pretty much homeless in a foreign land. I’d like to say I was calm and collected about the whole matter, but I’m pretty sure that I went relatively mental. My irritation was made even worse by the fact that I could see the spare set of keys through the window. I didn’t cry, but I may well have kicked the wheel. No doubt all this achieved was a sore foot.

A couple from Austria, or Holland, or somewhere European, discovered me on the roadside kicking the crap out of the tyres and my other half trying (and failing) to break into our own van. After explaining that the spare set of keys was helpfully locked inside, they offered to call their roadside assistance and pretend the van was theirs.  This was almost certainly against their policy, but they seemed un-phased by this unlawful and reckless behaviour. What mavericks they were.

They waited with us for a number of hours until the recovery man arrived so that they could show their membership card and keep up the pretence. Being British we endlessly apologised for the inconvenience we were causing them. ‘It was no problem’ they genuinely assured.  The recovery man commented in passing that the van registration was rather different from the one he had in his files. Very kindly he did not mention this glaringly obvious point again, and with the skill of a carjacker and the assistance of a large coathanger, he broke into our van.

 The couple would not accept anything for their trouble. To them, it genuinely was not a problem. Of course the only thing to do was to let us illegally use their roadside cover policy and offer us shelter in their car for the hours we waited. Of course.  They saved us several hundreds of dollars in locksmiths, and no doubt one or two rows.

Obviously I have never seen them again, but I have come to think of them as half mythical beings.

On reflection a lot of strangers were very kind to us on that trip. A garage gave us their emergency droplets of petrol when we had foolishly run out. A man walked several miles to return a lost hub-cap to us. Twice. Time after time we found ourselves the grateful recipients of directions offered, meals provided, lifts in cars and kindness abounding.

One day you will find yourself at the mercy of a stranger. Out of money, out of food, lost in a big city, or simply locked out of your flat. Whatever the situation, dramatic or mundane, you will be hoping that a stranger will save you.

So go forth and be kind. Give that lost looking soul directions, pay for the coffee of the guy in front who’s forgotten his wallet, ask the 80's throwback on the doorstep in the rain if she’s ok.  I guarantee that you will feel better about the world, yourself, life in general.

Kindness is contagious. Why not go out and spread it around.


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1 comment:

  1. This is heartbreaking stuff! Definitely time for a move to Leith ;-)