The Kindness of Strangers

My trip to the exhibition in Minden last week was great fun. Even though unplanned changes to my travel arrangements there and back did their best to derail me, I resolved not to let any delays get me down – after all, what can I do about it anyway?

Outward Bound

After rerouting into London from home to avoid a fallen tree on a line, a 100 minute delay departing London, and a 30 minute hold up in Rotterdam meant I missed my connection to Minden from Amsterdam Central. Arriving at Amsterdam I visited the international ticket desk, where a very helpful person allocated me a new reservation on a later train. The same person wrote me a note to show the guard, explaining the reasons for delay were beyond my control, so would they please honour my now expired ticket. He stickered and stamped the note and with a smile, assured me everything would be OK. He was right – the guard on the train happily accepted my unofficial travel documentation and on we went. The kindness of strangers.

I disembarked at Minden, feeling a little tired and disoriented having passed through England, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands prior to my arrival in Germany. I was greeted on the platform by Ulrich – someone who I had met briefly last November when the idea of this adventure was first suggested. I’d no idea Ulrich was going to be there, and a huge smile and a warm welcome were just what I needed. An invitation to the house to meet Irene was gratefully accepted and soon we were enjoying a late dinner, a glass of wine, and an excellent conversation. Ulrich dropped me back at my hotel later that evening. The kindness of strangers.

On Location

I met many friendly people while orming* about town, all of whom were helpful and tolerant of my lousy German, but hey, at least I tried…ich spreche nur ein bischen Deutsch. The friendly atmosphere at the exhibition was outstanding. A genuine appreciation of the work by all of the artists, reciprocated to the organisers who had worked hard to set everything up. Lots of guests milling about, enjoying our time together. I was introduced to Josephine, who had found a piece of free art I made. The art had been sent on ahead, and news of it was in the local paper. Josephine gave me a lovely framed photograph and we spent time talking and laughing.

Homeward Bound

Before we parted company, Josephine asked about my plans to travel home. I described the route, 08:15 departure from Minden to Dormund, Dortmund to Dusseldorf, Dusselfdorf to London, London to home. ‘I don’t think you can get from Minden to Dortmund tomorrow…one of the stations on that line is closed this weekend’. Sure enough, Josephine was correct, one of the stations on the line was closed for engineering works. The train was still running but it was taking a two hour detour, just enough delay for me to miss my flight out of Dusseldorf. Fortunately – there was an earlier train leaving at 05:15, so I got up at 04:30 and six hours later, boarded the flight. If it hadn’t been for that conversation I might still be abroad somewhere. The kindness of strangers.

The flight was duly delayed a while after we boarded, and when I eventually got to London Victoria, I discovered my local train station was shut for engineering works – you couldn’t make it up! I travelled to Croydon instead, and Carole kindly came to pick me up from the station.

I (just about) succeeded in keeping a smile on my face through the delays, and more importantly – I benefitted from the kindness of people I did not know, which all helped turn a good trip in to an excellent one.

*”orming” – wandering without intent, meandering, walking with pleasurable aimlessness (English regional, esp. Lincolnshire; supposedly derived from the Norse word for “worm”). With thanks to Robert Macfarlane for the definition.

Intention Deficit Disorder

Yesterday I started an experiment to carry out a random act of kindness every day for 30 days. I was unsure how to kick the process off – and while at the post office, I bought a little something for Carole and Keira. When I headed into London later, I left the gift waiting for them at home, along with a hand made card.

My reason for travelling to London was to catch up with friends gathering to celebrate a new adventure for the very lovely Ollie Baxter. I’d previously made some art to reflect the idea of changes at work, which I packaged up and gave to Ollie, who took the envelope, thanked me and said he’d open it later. On the way to the party I offered my seat to someone on the train who smiled broadly and politely declined. On the way back from the party I offered round a bag of sweets to fellow train passengers, all of whom smiled, and politely declined.

I sat pondering my day. At that time I’d not received any acknowledgment for the gift I left at home for the girls. The gift I’d given at the party had remained unseen in its envelope. No one wanted my train seat, or a share in my sweets. I felt odd about all this until it struck me that my intention was in completely the wrong place. I’d been doing all this stuff with some expectation of satisfying myself, not those around me.

To the extent that altruism is defined as ‘disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others’, I am not sure it exists, by which I mean that the act of giving creates beneficial feedback for the giver as well as any positives which passes to the receiver. That said, I feel I’m off to a bad start and I need to put my own expectations into a different place. I’m going to leave the word ‘random’ out of the equation from now on – this is an intentional process after all.

Day two of the experiment beckons, and with it a chance to relax, let go, and just be kind.

Experiments in Wellbeing – Acts of Kindness

Ty Sullivan is one of my friends over in the USA. Today, he and others are starting a 30 day random acts of kindness pledge. Ty is inviting others to join in, optionally using the hashtag #OneGoodThing. Having previously enjoyed the #100HappyDays and the #RWRunStreak experiments, I’m going to give this one a go too, and yes, I know, signing up for something like this does take some of the ‘random’ out of random acts of kindness.

I’m curious to learn how I get along with this – although I enjoy giving I frequently find myself wrestling with kindness. I’ll keep you posted, and if you fancy giving it a go and sharing your experience too – that would be great.