Yesterday a terrible tragedy happened when a Germanwings airbus crashed in the Alps with no survivors. There are no words, but my thoughts and prayers go out to the families. My 15 year old son flies off on his school exchange today, so it all feels close to home. Life can be so fragile.
It’s hard to make sense of such events, and of the terrible suffering in the world in general we see on the news every single day. All we can do is send our prayers if we have faith, and give practical help if we can.
But it is out of terrible sadness that great acts of kindness and love arise, and that is something to celebrate. I love the slot on Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’ where people write or phone in to say ‘Thank you’ and also the new TV programme called ‘The Gift’ where people have a chance to track down people to thank them in person.
One small act of kindness can make such a difference to someone’s life when they are having tough times. The offer of a simple cup of coffee. The coming across to chat to the nervous, lonely person in the room. Walking somebody all the way home when it’s not really needed to give them longer to talk about something they need to share. Stocking somebody’s cupboards and fridge, and turning up their heating because they are returning from a trip to see a seriously ill relative. The ‘Pride of Britain’ awards reward big acts of courage, bravery, selflessness and kindness. It’s a joy to see, if only we could have awards for those magnificent small acts of kindness people do for each other in all walks of life, all over the world, all the time.
A friend of mine’s mother had just died. Her father had already died and she was an only child so it was a very sad and lonely journey back to Scotland for her. She was travelling from Ireland and mistimed her train then taxi ride to the ferry, arriving as the port closed for the night. It was very late, all the hotels were closed and she didn’t know what to do. The taxi driver ran her to a hostel where there was a clean bedroom and a hot shower waiting for her. He told her that there would be no charge and that he would pick her up in the morning in time for the first ferry. She said that his kindness and help was her beacon of light at a very dark time.
I was living in Kenya for a year when I got the news that my father was in hospital and only had hours to live. I had to get on the first available plane. An hour into the flight, the shock must have hit me and I went pale and felt slightly shaky. One of the Air France cabin crew spotted me, and they whisked me up into their little galley for hot coffee and a sugary snack and, when they heard why I was travelling home, hugs. I made it back in time to say goodbye.
When my children were very small (they were only eighteen months apart), I was having a tough time as young mums often do and had very little sleep. One day I could not help it but my eyes filled with tears when a neighbour asked how I was doing. A couple of hours later she rang the doorbell holding an enormous chocolate cake. “I baked you this” she said.
In my life, so many people – people close to me but also strangers – have helped me through and given me hope and faith in the goodness of human nature. I had my wisdom teeth taken out when I was 22 and living in Glasgow and my face was quite badly bruised after the operation. I went into a little ‘greasy spoon’ cafe for a cup of tea and they didn’t want to let me pay because they thought I had been the victim of an assault. If I had been the victim of domestic violence, living in my own private hell, just imagine what that offer of a cup of tea could have meant.
This is what we can all be to each other, and how we can make sense of the suffering in the world. For alongside suffering is always love. Because we do not live as isolated individuals, we live in families and communities and workplaces and it is at the very worst times that we come together and help each other through.
In my teen fiction I try to celebrate human kindness and community and some people have said my books are ‘uplifting’, which I’m very happy about. I have recently had an idea for a new book where the central character is ‘different’ and because of this difference she unfortunately sees the worst in human nature when ignorant people misunderstand her condition. But she also sees, and experiences, the very best too.
I love the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ because George really does not think that his life is worth anything, he has not had a chance to travel the world or make a huge difference or be a war hero like his brother. But then he is shown that in his own small way, by being decent and kind, he has changed the lives of almost everybody in town.
I am absolutely sure that there are small things you have done for friends, or strangers, that you think nothing of or have forgotten all about. But you could have made a bigger difference than you think. The world’s problems are too big for us ‘little people’ to solve, but we can start with kindness. My message in this blog to everybody is, let’s keep the kindness going. One small act at a time.
It’s what makes us human, and it’s what makes life worth living.