This group of people is a very kind one.  The natural inclination of us all is to support, listen to and get to know each other. We have created friendly, enjoyable times together from this and a kinship has been born out our shared experiences.  When I was reflecting on this recently, kindness seemed an apt next topic.

My personal experience has been that when people are kind, it can act as a mirror or sometimes magnifying glass to what is truly wonderful in life, ourselves and each other. Kindness can reconnect us to what’s important and it can also restore our hope and energy. In the session I shared the opening of a poem by Edgar Alan Guest who summarises this beautifully.

“One never knows
How far a word of kindness goes;
One never sees
How far a smile of friendship flees.
Down, through the years,
The deed forgotten reappears.”

Kindness is a state of being as well as an action, so to encourage people to connect with the emotions they feel in relation to kindness, I led a guided meditation that included positive wishes for the self and others. I then offered an opportunity to silently visualise and reminisce about kind actions that have been directed towards them during lockdown as well as in the past.  People went on to share, in pairs and then the group, moments of helpfulness, compassion, generosity and thoughtfulness that have stayed with them. 

It was a lovely session to be part of and I hope you experience some of the glow of warm kinship that exchanging these values and memories brought us.  I also hope that you are reminded of acts and moments of kindness that have shaped and influenced you throughout your life. Perhaps you would even like to share a memory of your own using the “Leave a Reply” feature at the end of this post?  We would certainly like to read it.

Lucy Stephens

Today’s session left me with such a lovely warm feeling.  At the start, I was thinking about acts of kindness that have happened in the last year and there was an abundance of gratitude for various gifts, plants, hugs, chats, compliments, meals and hula hoops that I have been lucky enough to receive. 

When we thought about kindness in the past, I couldn’t think of one thing.  Not a single jot – I started to worry that nobody had ever been kind to me in the past, but then it started flooding back.  I’ve been back in my hometown of Shrewsbury for a bit twice since I moved to Manchester 17 years ago.  When I was recuperating from a broken ankle in 2005, I had a message out of the blue from Emma, we were friends, but not close.  She asked if I fancied her visiting to see me in Shrewsbury, so I jumped at the chance and we had such a lovely day together!  Fast forward 6 years, Emma is now my best friend and she drove all the way from Manchester to come and see me for a coffee and a hug after my dad passed away.  It was just so touching that she went to that effort.  Our friendship is peppered with small acts of kindness that we know the other one will love, but others might think a bit strange, I am incredibly grateful for her!

The square in the centre of Shrewsbury, showing the old market hall, benches, floral displays and people walking by
The Square, Shrewsbury. Image by lorrainecfletcher from Pixabay 

As the others were talking, other acts of kindness from the past came back to me, such as the amazingly friendly people in Copenhagen who twice walked 15 minutes out of their way to get us where exactly we needed to go, chatting all the way.  

There was also the man in the Job Centre in Leeds who told me “I can see that you won’t be coming here for very long”.  It was lovely to hear someone had faith in me finding work quickly, which I did.  He must have forgotten this, but it has stayed with me for 20 years.  I’m so grateful to have been on the end of so much kindness throughout my life and I hope that this continues and inspires me to be kind to others too. 

Margaret Williams

In thinking how I have been grateful for unsolicited kindness in the past, I remembered my experience as a student in college.  This was during my final teaching practice, which of course was very important for my final assessment.  I had been allocated a class of nine-year-olds and found the class teacher really dedicated to her work.  She believed that children should have literature presented to them from an early age and I learned a great deal from her.  At the time she was working with the children on an adapted version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which they were going to present to their parents at the end of the summer term.

Spotlight shining onto drawn stage curtains with silhouettes of audience members
Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

Sadly, the teacher’s husband suddenly became seriously ill and she was unable to work as normal.  There was no other teacher available in the school to take over from her and she told the head teacher that she had full confidence in my ability to cope with the class, including the preparation of the play.  This gave me such a boost, and I’m sure helped me to build my own confidence with her help when occasionally she was able to call in and see me.  I was very grateful since I was given a very high grade for the teaching practice, and this of course lifted the complete assessment.  I have never forgotten this and I hope I put it into practice when I had students in my classes.

In talking about more recent experiences, I referred to the help my husband and I have had during the lockdown when it was thought unwise for us to go out to do shopping in view of our advanced age.  We live in a retirement flat so that people living in the area knew that we were all elderly.  One day someone left a note in the porch offering to do any shopping, with a telephone number to contact, along with a name.  This name sounded Italian, and as my husband speaks Italian and loves to speak it whenever possible he got in contact. 

We found that the name was that of a young lady, Silvina, from a family who were originally Italian, but she speaks Spanish!  However, she and her partner, Mary, were very happy to help with shopping and made several trips to the local shops for us, which is a really good addition to deliveries from supermarkets.  We feel we have become good friends, even though we are unable to meet with them outside nor to invite them for a meal.  Some weeks into our contact with them we discovered that they are both highly qualified doctors, one working as a G.P. and the other as a paediatric doctor in hospital and both working very hard as a result of the infection.  We felt concerned to be giving them extra work, but they have assured us that they are happy to help.  What thoughtfulness and kindness!     

Jean Thompson

As always, it was interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts and different ideas of what they interpreted as kindness.

In the breakout room with Alberto, we shared our own thoughts on what the word meant to us. I went back to the word I had thought of, ‘unexpected’.  We hopefully experience kindness from our family and close friends and hopefully show the same to them, but the kindness that most surprises and takes me unawares is that which is unexpected and done with no thought of expecting anything back.

One such occasion for me occurred several years ago.  I had always loved the film The Bridges of Madison County, a real romance in many senses.  The story is based on the life of a photographer for the magazine National Geographic who had the commission of photographing the covered bridges in Illinois.  Around 1997 I went to America with my husband and we spent 3 weeks travelling.  We started in New York and on a visit to Greenwich Village I came across an old and slightly disorganised book shop in which I found a copy of the book which inspired the film, a book of photographs by Mark Heffron showing the very bridges from the film.  I seriously considered buying it, but dithered and as we were on a tight time schedule we moved on without me buying it.  One of those little regrets we all have.

A little bit later I was talking to two colleagues at work about the film which had had a re-showing on TV and told this story.  One of the colleagues (S) was herself going to New York and unbeknown to me the two of them had a discussion when I wasn’t around, and when S came back from her trip, she had bought the book for me. I was overwhelmed then, and still am now, when I think of it.  First that she had thought about it and then she had sought out this book shop during her own holiday, found the book and bought it for me. To me, that was a kindness above and beyond, and totally unexpected.

A photograph of the front cover of the book, Reflections on Madison County: a photographic journey by Mark E. Heffron
Jean’s copy of the book

Babs Cain

This session I was chatting with the lovely Lucy and reflecting on different ways kindness has been shown to us both recently and in the past.  We have both received lots throughout Covid 19, it has brought out the best in so many of us. 

As soon as lockdown hit one of my neighbours set up a WhatsApp group for anyone who wanted to join from our road and surrounding ones too. It has been filled with kindness, from offers of shopping, shared online shops, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, cakes, and even a virtual treasure hunt for the children to name but a few.  We have a beautiful family next door who have made their own choir and sang in their front garden for us. This act of kindness, has brought me untold joy which I will treasure forever. 

The staff in Longford Park cafe have shown me such kindness too. They are so friendly and super helpful, bringing my coffee and cake over to my table because it is awkward for me to collect from the hatch. Little acts like this mean so much to me. 

View of Longford cafe amidst the trees.  There is a short queue of people wearing raincoats at the hatch.
Longford Park cafe

I have received so many acts of kindness from so many friends and family throughout my life which I cannot do justice in this small space. Suffice it to say I have been truly blessed in very many ways. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate every meal I’ve had made, every hug I’ve been hugged, every thank you note I’ve had written, every day trip and every holiday I’ve been taken on, this list goes on and on and on.

I was reminded of a time long ago when a friend and neighbour popped in to see me and found me crying and the house in a mess. She folded my washing. This happened over 30 years ago but the impact of that small gesture has never left me. Several years later she also changed my bed sheets when I was sick and in bed for two weeks. The sheer joy of clean sheets at that time is embedded in my memory forever. 

I would really like to tell of a stranger’s kindness. A lady, who I will probably never meet again. I don’t even remember her name but somewhere on a farm, in the hills close to Carmarthen, is a farmer’s wife who knows my life story and I know hers. I was on my first holiday with just my husband in over 20 years and sadly he spent the whole of it in hospital. At first, I was totally lost without him and felt really scared. I had to drive myself, something I just did not do.  Not just any old car either, we had a hire car which happened to be a Mercedes, very posh and very long! 

The day in question I got lost on the country lanes and seemed to be climbing higher and higher and getting so far away from civilisation and finding absolutely nowhere to turn around and go back. When my ears popped, I began to panic.  Eventually after what seem forever, I pulled into a tiny lay-by in front of a farm. Two dogs ran at the car and started barking like crazy. Their owner followed closely, asking if she could help me. I promptly burst into tears, told her I was lost and asked if I may enter her property to turn round. She quickly opened her gates and let me in. She said that maybe I should calm down before I set off again and offered me tea and cake.

We shared an amazing couple of hours together and got on like a house on fire. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought of her over the years and wished I’d kept in touch.  I now accept she was my earth Angel on that day and probably for that day only ……. but I never say never!

Tony Goulding

I think we remember most those occasions when we are shown kindness when we are either feeling low or are in a vulnerable situation.

 The kind action which immediately sprang to my mind, during the introduction, was when I was particularly poorly with a stomach upset about 18 months ago and my friend, Andrea called around not only with some very unpalatable “pink medicine” but also a lovely plant with white flowers to lift my spirits.

Three plants on Tony's window sill, in pottery plant pots with floral designs on them.
Andrea’s plant

As you can see, I still have this plant though it has not flowered again yet. I have to water it several times a week so you could say it was “a gift that keeps on giving”

In the breakout room Joe and I spent a lot of the time telling tales of instances of kindness both of us had experienced whilst travelling. We had both in our younger days travelled independently and solo around Europe by train.

Young Tony on board a ferry, wearing a flat cap, a Guinness jumper over a red shirt with a large collar and a brown corduroy jacket. He is carrying a large framed rucksack on his back.
Young Tony off on his travels

As such we would often rely on “the kindness of strangers”. We also reflected on how casual friendships can arise between fellow travellers who have been thrown together producing a common bond.

We did also get a little philosophical at times as I equated “kindness” with that other “K”, “Karma” and how random acts of kindness can have a “ripple effect” making the world a happier place. Finishing with the thought that if we were all a little kinder: to ourselves, to others and to the planet, the world would be in a much happier position than it is now.

Joe Sykes

This week, Tony and I pondered the kindness of strangers we rely on when we’re travelling. Tony told me a little about his travels in post-Franco Spain, and I only wish we’d had more time to discuss his travels at a fascinating time in the country’s history.

I, for my part, recalled the kindness of strangers in the summer of 2006.  It was my first time travelling abroad.  I had flown into Turin airport and was travelling to the tiny French alpine village of Ailefroide, where I was due to spend six weeks working as a waiter in a hotel.  

The village of Ailefroide

Young and inexperienced, I’d naively assumed the journey from Turin airport to Ailefroide would be straightforward.  In reality, when you are relying on a plane, a tram, multiple trains and buses, the chances of a perfectly smooth journey are near zilch.  Consequently, I found myself stranded in the Italian village of Oulx on the night of the World Cup final between France and Italy.  Unsurprisingly, the Italians in the station bar were glued to the TV and weren’t too keen to help a young Englishman who had missed the last bus of the day over the border into France!

I tried to find a hotel, but none had vacancies, and the place was too remote for a taxi to be an option.  Finally, when I was on the verge of sleeping under the stars, I found a B&B, and the owner offered me a room for the night.  I was so relieved that the owner had let me in at such a late hour, and immensely grateful for this kindness.  Various obstacles followed the next day (in part due to the Tour de France – I was starting to curse sporting events!) but, when I was close to despair, standing on the side of the road with my thumb out, a father and his daughter pulled over and drove miles out of their way to take me up into the mountains and to Ailefroide.  The experience developed my resilience and appreciation for the kindness of strangers in equal measure.

Margaret Kendall

In early May, a parcel arrived from a good friend who lives in Berlin.  It contained a pack of re-useable cotton face masks which people in Germany were required to wear but, at that time, we were being told were unnecessary. I was touched, and started wearing a mask straightaway. I’m reminded of her kindness each time I put on a mask now.

During the meditation, my thoughts turned to Anne Marie, my French “August mother”. I went abroad for the first time with my cousin Mary, when I was fourteen and she fifteen.  Mary’s French teacher had arranged for us to stay with her French friend and husband, in a small village in Picardy.  They had two daughters of similar ages, as well as a younger daughter and son.  Everything was so very different from home: not only the language, but such strange food!  The evening meal lasted such a long time and we weren’t allowed to talk in English: Anne Marie said we were in France, and there to learn French!  However, she had a great sense of fun and enjoyed encouraging us and all the family in making conversation.   We were homesick, but well looked after, and made to feel welcome.  During the day, we went with our new friends for walks and bike rides, did the daily shopping in the village, helped pack bags of flour in the family’s flour mill, fed the rabbits and chickens, and played cards and board games together. 

I gained a lot in confidence as a result, did better at school and learnt to love the French language.  I was invited back the following three Augusts (which was why Anne Marie asked me to call her my “maman du mois d’août”), during the year when I was a student in Lyon, and for several years afterwards. 

Agnès, the daughter nearest my age, and I have been lifelong correspondents, with social media helping enormously in more recent years.  We had a wonderful reunion with almost all the family in 2014, and since then, Anne Marie has been in regular touch with me as well, using Facebook Messenger.  She sends me jokes which challenge my French, but do make me laugh! 

Looking back, her kindness to my fourteen-year-old self caused a step change in my life. 

Merci beaucoup, Anne Marie!

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