I just got back from two weeks in England and Scotland and the thing I will remember most is the kindness of strangers. Not one stranger and not one act of kindness, but many on an almost daily basis. I experienced people around me who were at relative peace with the world and their place in it; who were open to others and ready to help. For whom the words “no worries” and “no bother” came across as genuine.
What were these acts of kindness? I don’t think I can recall them all, but they included a woman who stopped us as we were looking at a map on the streets of London and asked where we were trying to go and then helped us find our way, and a young man with his father who took the time to look up the correct tire pressure for the tires on the rental car we were driving that needed air. (His information was not correct, but the gesture was terribly kind). Then there was the gentleman who overheard my request for directions and came up to me to let me know that he was going that way and would be happy to lead us – a very good thing as it turned out because the way was twisty and involved some very narrow roads we might not have had the courage to enter without his lead. Then there was the food cart man on the train who stopped to chat with us about America and made sure we knew where to get off. There was the restauranteur who held my friend’s credit card for her after she accidently left it behind and the taxi driver who returned another friend’s multiple credit cards and driver’s license that slipped out of her wallet in the back seat. Two near disasters averted by kindness. There was the rental car agency employee who agreed to come in earlier than he otherwise would so that we had time to drop off our car and catch an early train. There was the young man behind the desk at the hotel in Oxford who was infinitely patient with us as we stored, retrieved, stored and retrieved our luggage. There were guides who went out of their way to explain things in detail, and one museum guard who said he would look the other way if we wanted to take photos if those photos would “enrich our lives as women,” then encouraged us to see an upstairs exhibit and beat us up there to show us his favorite pieces. There was the B&B owner who helped us find medicine and secure rooms at other establishments when one of us became ill, though in the end we didn’t stay the extra night. And there was the postman who was coming by as we were hopelessly lost on the way to a castle. (Somehow, we had ended up at a pig farm instead). He did not know the place we were looking for and went on his way, only to return five minutes later with better information for us. When I asked if I could take his picture to remember his kindness, he demurred.
In fact, I don’t remember experiencing a single incident of rudeness, brusqueness or “me first” behavior the entire two weeks. I don’t honestly know what to attribute this to, though I will say it created a feeling of relaxation, security, and well-being in me that I have not experienced at home in the United States in many years. And, it made me more aware of the power of simple kindness to connect, uplift, soothe, and heal. Now it is my turn to try being more kind more often.