These are my musings and observations on my daily life, loves and the laughter that are all a part of my experience of living now in the shires of England.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Spontaneous gifts of happiness

Warning *** This is not a short ‘normal sized’ blog entry *** (for the shortened version please go to this blog at Happy Every Day)

Now, if you have decided to stay the course I will share the events of a short time span in a recent day of my life.

I hope that you will find that reading this will be worth your time. It really was worth my time and effort that day.

Money could never buy the happiness that I felt that day. Strong statement you may say and you many wonder what can have cause this great joy. As the great Adrian Monk would say “Here’s what happened…”

I was returning home from an appointment in town and I was in somewhat of a haste. As I made rapid progress I found myself wishing more and more that I had gone to Marks & Spencer or even, God forbid, McDonalds, to use their bathroom facilities before starting the journey home.

Yes, it may seem a little indelicate to talk of these things but the truth was my bladder was full to capacity and each homeward step reminded me of this pressing fact. I realised that I had seriously got my calculations wrong. As I walked I was becoming more convinced that I would not make it home with my dignity in tact.

I was about half way home when I dashed across a busy road, not bothering to wait for the traffic lights to change as that would delay me too much. It was at this point in the journey that I saw a man, a woman and a child. The man had abandoned his child in the pushchair and was slowly walking across the lines of traffic holding on to the arm of an elderly woman.

I smiled once I realised what was going on because it took me a few seconds to take in his backwards looks of concern to his child, the flowing traffic and the other pedestrians nearby – including me. As I hurried past I took a few steps towards them and said, “It’s nice to see a real gentleman these days.” (This is not an anti-feminist statement just an observation recognising the care of a stronger person towards a weaker one.) The man smiled in return while continuing his glance back across the road to the pavement where his child sat playing with her toy while waiting patiently.

It was at this point that my plans for the quick release changed.

The old woman, now safely positioned on the pavement, turned to me and grabbed my arm. I was shocked but I returned her hold with a gentle touch on her arm. For someone who looked so frail she had a really strong grip on my arm and somehow I instantly knew that I wasn’t going home as planned. The man had been released and he returned to his bemused child. The woman was talking to me from the moment she touched me. I was into something, and at that moment I was not sure exactly what it was. Luckily my mind became the main controller of my bodily functions as I slowly, really slowly, steered her to the nearest low wall. I suggested that she wait there while I go and look for her key. This was part of the story that she had just relayed to me.

Daphne, the name she gave me within a few seconds, was out for a walk and had apparently lost her key in a charity shop nearby. As she leaned against me she used her walking stick to point out where the shop was. She indicated that it was on the same road as we were stood in but just down a bit on the right. There was no such establishment on the road where we were but I knew that one was around the corner on a nearby street so I suggested she stay there and I run to the shop to retrieve her key. My brain told me that the distance to the shop plus the speed of her movement and the factor of my full bladder would only result in an embarrassing disaster. I was grateful that I had actually paid attention in my science classes at school as the formula really meant something right then. I realised that it would be seriously embarrassing if I got these calculations wrong.

I left Mrs Smith, she had told me to call her Daphne – but that didn’t feel right to me, by the wall clutching her cane and her very proper embroidered cotton handkerchief. Her blue rinse shone in the sunlight when I glanced back to see if she was OK. The reflection of the sun also bounced off her large glasses frames. At close quarters her eyes looked like a surprised rabbit that had been suddenly caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, from a distance she reminded me of World Champion snooker player Dennis Taylor with his extra large glasses lenses.

I enquired at the charity shop then searched around it, with assistance. The pleasure of helping someone was spreading around. A stranger in the shop asked me if he could help. There were several other willing volunteers in the shop as well. After scanning the compact space I knew the key was still missing but there were so many smiles growing on the faces of the people I kept meeting on my quest that although I was indeed leaving without retrieving the key I felt as if I had undeniably been the recipient of several gifts.

Additionally I noted that even though I still needed to get home the urgency of my solitary homeward bound mission had greatly abated.

As I hurried back to Mrs Smith I decided to stop in the only shop on the original side of the road where our paths had intersected. I could see Mrs Smith leaning against the wall ahead of me, waiting for me, a stranger, to return with good news.

The owner of the import and export business (definitely not a charity shop) did not know anything about a lost key, however he offered to call his wife to check with her as she had been working in the shop earlier that day. Sadly Mrs Import-Export hadn’t any knowledge of the key either.

Regardless of returning to Mrs Smith empty-handed I was mindful that I was now walking in a lighter manner and a euphoria of pleasure was embracing my body. I was, however, beginning to wonder about the veracity of the lost-key story. Was this, I thought, just a desperate call for some kind human contact? What exactly was going on here? Although I had started to wonder about the reason for our contact I soon chased these thoughts from my mind when I looked up and saw Mrs Smith waiting with anticipation for my return. She needed someone to do something for her – that was obvious. So what if she was confused about what the thing was, she definitely knew she needed something. And, I was beginning to enjoy being the one who was able to fulfil some small part of that need. I was helping this one-time stranger with something, it was unplanned but emotionally it was extremely rewarding.

On my return to the wall where Daphne Smith rested, I was met by a woman whose attitude amused me and made me reassess the things that I worry about. She did not seem at all overly concerned by the fact that the key could not be found. As I gave her the news I thought that this may be the end of our interaction. Instead of going our separate ways Mrs Smith clamped onto my arm again as she levered herself off the wall. She then began to slowly, but firmly, propel me in the opposite direction from which I had just returned, and away from my home. As we were evidently heading towards the housing complex I agreed to accompany her back inside safely and I suggested telling the warden that she had accidentally lost the key was the best way forward. Her wrinkled skin, that had a fragile tracing-paper-like quality in the facial area, altered into an arrangement that indicated reluctance to follow this plan. As we continued to progress at a very slow pace she divulged that this was the second key that she had ‘mislaid’ in a week and they, the powers that be, didn’t even want her to leave the building that day so she anticipated some displeasure when she returned keyless again. Daphne hesitated for a second and we took about six more steps before she tilted her head to one side and said to me that it would be best if I just told them that she had been a little unsteady on her feet and that is the reason why I was accompanying her back. Although it was the partial truth I felt uncomfortable with perpetuating a lie, I explained my reasons. Her response was that Graham, the warden would be angry with her if she said she’d lost her key again and that this reason for me assisting her would be more easily accepted. I was in a quandary, because lying is just not in my way of living.

Nevertheless I had a few more minutes to think and we rounded the corner that led to the back access door of the housing scheme. In the small courtyard that doubled as a parking bay a taxi crept passed us and parked near the doors at the end of the walkway. A woman leaning heavily on a walker made her way to the parked vehicle, as she moved towards the waiting taxi in a crablike manner Daphne continued to talk to me. She told me that they’re always coming in there, the taxis, to take the people off for appointments and visits all over the place.

She smiled and passed a friendly greeting to both the taxi driver, who was by this time placing the walking frame into the boot of the car while the old woman was backing herself slowly onto the rear passenger seat. They had driven off by the time I was pressing the intercom on the wall by the entrance door. I followed Daphne’s instructions and the door soon slid open to allow us entry.

Holding on to my arm still Daphne walked purposely towards one of the high-backed chairs that were dotted around the entrance lobby. Settling herself into the one closest to the door she started talking to the occupant of the adjoining chair. I had been paraded across the smart lobby area as if I were some prized possession she had recently won at bingo. Now I stood waiting expectantly by the side of her chair as she arranged herself comfortably in the seat while still recounting the adventures of the past hour to her fellow resident.

It is amazing just how much of a person’s life you can learn about in around five minutes – if you just listen to them, really listen.

I had said that I’d do one more thing for Daphne. It was the main reason that she had ventured out that morning: she wanted a top-up for her mobile phone.

As I stood in front of her chair I reminded her that I would willingly go for the top-up but she would have to trust me to take her money as I would be going alone. Without a moment’s hesitation she reached into her bag, retrieved her purse and fished out a £10 note. I verified the mobile network that she was subscribed to and I then pocketed the money and bid the elderly group of women farewell. I reiterated that I would return no sooner than thirty minutes as I had to go home first. They all nodded at me and then turned back to each other to continue their conversation. I was free to go.

I had taken a few steps when I felt her eyes on me again, so I turned back towards her. Daphne had something else to say to me, I could feel it. Her eyes were enlarged behind those magnifying snooker-like lenses and they seemed to be pleading to me. Suddenly her hand reached out towards me. I hesitated and then took a step back towards her. I noted that I had been speaking in an extra loud voice for some reason. I did not know that she was hard of hearing at all but I still continued to speak slowly, clearly and loudly. I felt like the proverbial English tourist abroad without the use of the local language. Then the request came again, Daphne wondered aloud if I was really busy or if I had time to do a few more things to help her. Suddenly I was reminded of visiting my father and wanting to get away when he would reel of this list of ‘small’ tasks that ‘wouldn’t take long’. I smiled, but firmly said that I only had time for the phone task because I’d shortly have to meet my son from school.

As I exited the building I reflected that I had only met this stranger, this Daphne Smith, a mere thirty or so minutes previously and yet here I was walking away with her money. I felt blessed to have received her trust in such a short time and I noted to myself that although I knew I was trustworthy it was me and not her who had raised the issue of trust. I never doubted myself - I just wanted to make sure that she was sure of what she was doing. Daphne never once questioned my honesty, trustworthiness or kindness. She just took me in to her life circle by the single grasp of my wrist. It seemed that was enough to inform her of my character.

I think this unexpected contact was somehow infused into me because as I resumed my journey home I was again stopped and asked for help. This willingness to help others appears to have become evident and was somehow etched on my face and integral to the way I walked along the street. Maybe I was just glowing with the pleasure of helping someone but somehow the more people I walked by the more people seemed to smile at me that day. Spontaneous help infuses the helpers with a gift that is evidenced in a sense of unexpected goodness simply because you are able to help somebody in some small way.

Ever since I walked towards the man helping Daphne Smith across the road it was as if I became part of a huge system that connected unrelated people for one purpose. And we all seemed to like it. So many people got involved in this one incident. So many people are now associated to each other in a new and different way, mainly by their willingness to reach out to each other and it is all because one woman wanted to go for a walk.

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