The Kindness to Strangers.
When I was fourteen, I could already manage small children, very old people and dogs. I was routinely the relative who babysat numerous younger cousins, the girl who was asked by frail old ladies to help them cross the street or reach up for some product in a store; all kinds of dogs would stop growling and wag their tails at me. One day my Granny gave me The Talk. She explained that I was the one among her dozen grandchildren who seemed to have inherited her peculiar gifts, her blessing and curse. I listened carefully, and since her word was absolute Law, I took it as gospel truth and have been following it ever since. Simply put, she told me that we were those strangers on whose kindness other people depended. With the passage of time I realized that things were not as simple. Why would an old tiny lady look around for help and unerringly zero in on me? I guess because I also notice her futile attempts to get something from a higher shelf, or her hesitation before stepping forward at a crossing. Why would yet another young mother turn to me for help and advice? Because I glance at all kids with a benevolent smile. And so on. Some things I have been doing practically all my life, like helping a family with twenty foster children. Others come and go. A co-worker who had no relations asked me if I could take care of her toddler when her due date came, I took him home for some days. It was no problem for me, what is more important, he felt comfortable with us. How many times this has happened? I honestly don’t know. My own children of course consider all this natural because they were born into it. They would hug and greet a student of mine who suddenly found herself in dire straits and came to me as a matter of course. I do not seek out such people, rather they find me. As Agatha Christie put it, there’s nothing wrong with helping those who are OK. Very often all it takes is a kind word, a good meal, a warm sweater. Some of the people we helped through the years became good friends, others went on to live their own lives. At times they may come to visit or send a card or call. When we travel we check if one of them now lives in this or that country, send a message and have a joyous meeting. There are now lots of children in the world who consider me a relative, an aunt or godmother. I never expect any of them to sort of materialize regularly and thank me, because help comes to those who need it, and kindness is given gratis. A neighbor who takes care of her three very nice grandchildren shared her worry with me: she was afraid that her modest budget would not allow her to buy fruit for the kids. And what sort of New Year is it without heaps of oranges and apples? Her back bothered her due to the cold weather, so she couldn’t bake their favorite treats. I went to a store, bought oranges and apples. And I baked some extra loaves of French bread and several cakes, because in season I bake a lot of goodies and bring them to old people and mothers with young children. The children’s joy when they receive such simple gifts, their yells of delight; the old folks’ reverent attitude towards breads make my heart warm.
This year I missed one of my regulars through no fault on my part. For some ten years I felt a small part of one family’s life. The young woman sought my help when she was expecting the first baby, and later she would stop by quite often to have some rest and a good meal after a visit to her doctor while expecting her second child. She fit in nicely into my usual schedule: a few times a year I would remember to call or visit, to give presents to children who would greet me with those same yells of joy. In my mental to-do list they are grouped with all those kids who like my mini-bagels. Whenever those little connoisseurs visit me or I go to see them, I bake their favorites. Many times I have watched the same picture: if my small visitors come and something is still in the oven, they would plump down on the floor and wait, watching intently until the baked goodies turn golden-brown. And the aroma, they all exclaim. Actually one of those former children is now thirty, but she still gives me a delighted smile when she comes to visit and I place a plate in front of her. So how did it happen that I did not congratulate a couple little ones this year? As usual, I gave a present to the little schoolgirl, and when school break came I called the mother to ask if we could visit together. She said she was very busy, which was normal. Then the little boy’s birthday came, I called to congratulate, and got a hasty “I am very busy!” from the mother. The message was clear. After ten years for whatever reason I was not wanted. That’s a first. True, sometimes the relationship is very temporary. I see a situation where a little help is needed, I help if I can. Then people manage to stand on their own feet and our ways part naturally. Whenever we meet though I can see that the kindness is remembered. It even happens that while I need a moment to clearly recollect who, what, when, I am greeted with sunny smiles and told the latest news. It is easy to communicate on such occasions, I just say ” Great news!”, “Lovely children” or something equally nice. When you do a kind deed you act from the goodness of your heart, not expecting anything in return. That’s the way you are. Ten years is quite a long time. You get used to seeing the children several times a year; you become interested in the mother’s news. When a sudden rift occurs, it hurts. Were you used? How would the children react to the absence of their titular godmother? Well. Children would probably forget. Adults make their own decisions. Mine is simple. I looked back at my own actions, found nothing untoward, and stepped aside. I did all my usual rounds, gave the usual presents, helped out where asked. This is my favorite season of the year.
The Kindness to Strangers.