As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
WHAT’S the kindest thing anyone ever did for you? Maybe as we all need a bit of cheering up it might be nice to reminisce? Kindness, even the smallest gesture, a few words, someone sharing what they have, can change everything for someone else.
When I thought about it, I had far too many examples of people being kind, to even mention. Funny how we never ever forget true kindness. When we are at our lowest ebb, it’s the very thing that can lift us up.
Sometimes it’s just a warm tone of voice. As a friend of mine always says when she is vulnerable, “Don’t be too nice to me now or I’ll end up in floods!!” The right voice, with the right words, at the right time can really penetrate hopelessness.
Although I have very few memories of my own Mother, I remember her making bottles for babies of Traveller women in tartan shawls. My young Mother would be full of curiosity about the news from the road and the women would be chatting away. It was the atmosphere in that kitchen that I never forgot; steaming cups of tea, buttery toast and milky babies.
‘True to his word, we went straight to the bank and afterwards travelled together to Santa Clara, where we had lunch and parted ways; us clutching his Dublin address.’
My Father, who lived into his 80s, would pride himself on “helping the old people” although he was often older than the “old people” himself. His especially kind voice would come on if you were sick. If he called you “chicken” you were in business for a hot whiskey. (How was whiskey even allowed as medicine for children!!?)
But for the kindness champions, I think the prize would have to go to Grannies. I can even see it with all the Grannies that I know today. Nothing, and I mean nothing is too much trouble. Exhausted from getting up and down on the floor to play, worn out from telling stories or making special sandwiches, Grannies still have the best cuddles and the kindest eyes.
The kindness of strangers can blow you away, especially when you are far away from home. There is a special kindness in Islamic countries where hospitality must win you massive points with Allah. I have never experienced anything like it anywhere else. Camping in rural Turkey and finding food at the tent door every single morning. Hitching a lift with a caravan of cars on their way to Iran and being put up in hotels and fed all the way across Europe: no agenda, no strings attached. Being brought into the heart of families and fed the most special fish after a day out on the boats in Izmir.
Then there was Cuba in 2004. Cuba had only begun to open up their tourism industry and they had been through a horrible time which they called the Special Period. The economy had been trashed by the fall of the USSR. They needed foreign currency more than anything and so Europeans began to travel there for holidays.
Cuba at that time would not be your average package deal. You could fly from Madrid alright. You could book a few nights’ accommodation online. After that you would have to take your chances and find out what the local scene was like when you arrived and usually that meant living with local families.
Havana took some getting used to. There were two prices for everything, one for locals and one for foreigners. This would turn out to be the root of all our problems. When our small amount of US dollars ran out, there was nowhere to get more!
Who knew? No ATMs, no banks willing to let us withdraw money, and no credit cards. Problem was our credit card was an American one apparently. Luckily our son in Ireland managed to book us into accommodation online and we were able to stay there but sending us cash also proved to be a non starter.
While trying to figure out what to do, we ran into a young couple from Dublin. They were a pair of cool headed backpackers on their honeymoon. We chatted for a few minutes telling them about our dilemma. “I have cash!” says he. “I have a credit card from a Spanish bank which operates here. How much do ye need?”
Now this offer of cash to last us for the rest of the month, took five minutes of chat! True to his word, we went straight to the bank and afterwards travelled together to Santa Clara, where we had lunch and parted ways; us clutching his Dublin address.
I have often wondered how many people would have been so generous and trusting? What would we have done if we hadn’t met him?
Acts of kindness cost nothing, but can quite literally change the world for someone else.
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com