I am trying to find a car park so I can get groceries for the family, and it seems that everyone else has the same idea. As I drive around and around, I will someone to pull out so that I can take their space; then finally it happens.
As I wait for the person to leave, I notice another vehicle pull up, apparently waiting for the same park. I am sitting there seething, fantasising about ramming them if they try to encroach on ‘my’ space, when the unexpected happens: The driver notices me waiting, and waves me into the car park. I give him the thumbs up, and swoop in.
Another space opens up two cars down from me, and the driver parks his car.
I rummage for my shopping list, get out of my car and walk past his; as he looks up I make eye contact and say “Hey thanks for being so gracious before, I really appreciate it.”
He falls into step, a tall man in his mid-fifties, beside vertically-challenged me and as we walk he says “Well, I think we all need to be a bit kind to each other sometimes.” I wholeheartedly believe this too and tell him so, adding that I am pleased that he got another car park so quickly.
“This week has really made me think,” he says, “it’s been a tough one.” His South African accent is strong, but his manner is subdued. I look up at him; I want to ask, but sense that it wouldn’t be appropriate. He drops his eyes and tilts his head and answers my unasked question anyway.
“We buried my wife’s son this week,” he tells me, “He committed suicide. We were in Australia on holiday, and when we got back… well he must have been dead for ten days.”
I stop walking, stunned, worried I am going to burst into tears. I don’t even know how they are surviving this. “I am so… terribly… sorry to hear that,” I say. I am just standing there staring, and he puts his arm around my shoulders and starts me walking again.
“Ah, come on now,” he says kindly, “It’s not your worry.”
“Your hearts must be broken, I wish you didn’t have to go through this.”
“Well,” he says, “Do you know what I say?” He shields his eyes from the sun. “I say “Let there be peace in the world, and let it start with me.” ”
“It’s a good philosophy to live by,” I tell him, “and I agree; we all need to be a bit more gentle with each other.”
“I’m sorry,” he shakes his head “I shouldn’t have dropped all that on you.”
“Maybe you just… needed to,” I look at him, “and that’s ok.”
He nods, a brief bob of the head, and gives me another shoulder-squeeze.
We get our shopping trolleys and begin the process of parting.
“Oh! And one more thing,” he calls. I turn, and he indicates the paper in my hand.
“Stick to the list.”
He smiles and is gone.
I know that it isn’t my usual ‘upbeat’ kind of post, but I felt I needed to write this nonetheless. So often we are caught up in our own bubbles; with our lives, our stresses and struggles, we sometimes forget that everyone else is fighting battles too.
We have absolutely no idea what strangers are dealing with. Whether it is the person who cut you off while driving, or the person who packed your groceries without talking to you… be gentle with them, just in case.
While I sat in my car feeling pissed off that this man might be about to steal my park, I was oblivious to the unfathomable tragedy he and his family were enduring, and I would never have known if it had not been for the kindness he extended to me.
Today, I am grateful for this stranger, for the chance to connect with another human being in this unexpected way. I am humbled that he shared this with me, and send love to his family at this time.
Enjoy your week, my friends. Get out there and spread a little kindness, for no reason other than just because you can.