I arrived at the bus stop, cold and in a hurry, as usual – just as the bus I wanted was leaving. “So typical!” I muttered crossly to myself, settling down to wait for the next one with an ill grace. A tall, lean, youngish woman with long, rather straggly hair, wearing a dark coloured jacket, jeans and a pair of Wellington boots arrived at the stop. I thought she looked rather strained and tired.
To help pass the time, I outlined my theory of bus catching to her. If you couldn’t care less about catching a bus, two will pass you going in your direction, any of which would do, I said. If you’d quite like a bus because you are feeling lazy, one will pass you just as you are arriving at the stop. If you are desperate to catch a bus and very much behind schedule, a posse of three will speed by, pretending not to see you.
The woman laughed and laughed. I noticed she had large, soulful eyes. “Ain’t that so close to the truth you could bite its bum,” she spluttered. And on we chatted, until at last the bus arrived. As we were getting on, she said thanks for our chat. “No problem,” I said. “I always talk to people!” She looked at me before taking her seat. Her eyes filled with tears. ” Today,” she said, “it was more important than you will ever know.”
Our brief encounter was important to me, too. It got me thinking about “ordinary” human connection, and exchanges of “ordinary” warmth from one person to another.
Recently, I was in a big city centre store, returning a faulty amplifier. It was very straightforward, and although I was rather tired and in need of some lunch, I suddenly decided to investigate the in-store availability of a small digital overhead projector which I’d been thinking of purchasing to run off my laptop, my twenty year old OHP now being very out of date.
What a mistake that was! I was pitched into one of those protracted gothic techno-nightmares which we all have from time to time in which everything possible goes wrong. Note to self: I really MUST learn that there is a time to give up, ie before I am lying in a frazzled, tearful heap on one of the sofas of the said department store, bellowing into my mobile phone to my husband who simply can’t hear me at the other end.
Throughout the whole of this protracted saga, I was ably and calmly helped (she didn’t get anywhere, either, in wading through the techno-snake pit into which we had stumbled) by a very professional and unflappable shop assistant who went to endless trouble to try and unravel the knotty series of problems we encountered at every stage of my attempted purchase.She was just great: calm, efficient, and most important of all – kind.
Some weeks later, I have recovered from that saga – no, since you ask, I still do not have a digital projector!– but I have not forgotten that young woman’s much appreciated kindness.
By a bizarre twist of fate, my husband and myself are both having to undergo eye surgery in March, within twelve days of each other. Last month, we both went to his pre-op assessment and met the surgeon who is to do his procedure which should be pretty routine. We immediately took to this man, who spoke to us both with warmth, humour, wisdom and great humanity. Afterwards, we both felt much better for that encounter. ” I’ll feel quite safe in his hands,” my husband remarked.
I have been fortunate to have been able to build up a relationship of trust and confidence in the consultant who will be doing my surgery – over several years. Because of the humanity and kindness of my surgeon, as well as his skill and experience, I will feel as safe as one can, given the nerve wracking circumstances of basically having a drainage channel cut in my left eye under a local anaesthetic. Having a black sense of humour and good supportive friends helps greatly too. Valium – here I come!
We all need to give and to receive kindness and care in both fleeting and significant interactions with our fellow human beings. But we would need to be literally and metaphorically blind not to notice that the further we move collectively into techno- sophistication, the more compromised those day to day human interactions have become. We seem to be evolving socially into an increasingly neurotic population becoming better able to relate to our gadgets than our fellow citizens.
Whilst not in any way decrying those wonderful improvements and advantages which ever- advancing technological progress have brought our way, we need to be more aware of what is happening to our “ordinary” humanity in the process.
That great 20th century explorer of the human condition, psychologist and mystic Carl Gustav Jung, had wise words to say which are relevant here. If there is something wrong with society, there is also something wrong with me; therefore I need to start with myself in beginning to effect positive change, was the gist of his message.
So there we have it. Whilst being sensibly self-protective, let us all take opportunities wherever we can to reach out, even in small ways, to our fellow citizens. Talk to people at the bus stop. Thank people and show appreciation to those who are kind to us (I have Jaqui, the shop lady’s email address and will be sending her a copy of this post).
If people in the caring professions treat us with a lack of humanity and kindness, let’s try and make someone aware of this, preferably them, or their superiors. We may be doing some good in making it less likely that someone else will be treated this way. A couple of years ago I pointed out to an orthopaedic surgeon that his registrar had the inter- personal skills of a gnat. I hope and trust that this might have had some positive benefit for subsequent patients…
I am indeed fortunate in living in that great grubby lively metropolis, the city of Glasgow in Scotland. Like any urban environment, there are plenty things wrong with it. But its reputation is of a warm-hearted place where its citizens are friendly and always up for a chat. I have certainly found this to be true. It has rubbed off on me. So – get out there, and get chatting, wherever you are. You never know when a few friendly words at a bus stop may make a big difference to someone else’s day. or even their life…
What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d like to hear them!
1110 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
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