Quite a few months ago now, in what seems like a hideously distorted dreamscape of events I’m no longer certain took place; I had a Very Bad Day. One of my worst days, in fact. As bad a day as is possible, to the point that it nearly was my last day. It took someone I’ve never met to make sure that there weren’t local news reports starting with the words ‘A body has been found…’ Yeah. That kind of bad. But, as I say, a very wise man was very wise and very kind (‘and that’s how I got picked up by the Police from Beeston Priory at one in the morning’ is usually how this story ends). So, with no trace of hyperbole, I owe my life to the kindness of that person. He knows who he is. And I hope he knows how his consideration that night kept me going in the very tough weeks that followed.
There was another stranger that day too. Although I was trying to be discreet during my phone calls with Kind Man (or at least I think I was, my memory is distinctly hazy) someone on the bus to Sheringham (yes, the arse-aching glamour of my life) heard me sobbing and trying to explain why the horror of everything had overwhelmed me and my mind had splintered. And they obviously realised that they couldn’t do much to help, but as their bus stop approached, they got up, took a few steps back to where I sat and handed me a scrap of paper.
I’ve kept it. Of course I have. I put it in the notebook I had with me, and I’ve kept it there ever since. I carried that notebook with me for months, everywhere I went, although I haven’t written in it since that day because I don’t want to be reminded of the words that were spilt into it. But I did read that note a lot.
I didn’t take in anything about the person who gave it to me. Male/female, old/young, alone/part of a group. All I remember is a disembodied hand passing it to me. And me snotting everywhere because I was at the point of knowing that these were my last few hours on earth, and there would be no more days, let alone better ones.
I hadn’t planned to tell anyone about that stranger. It was just going to be a moment between us. But I sort of feel like I have to now. Because the world right now seems a bleak, empty, hopeless place. For family, for friends, for strangers. And I feel utterly powerless to do anything about it. Helpless. But I’m not, not completely. None of us are. We might not be able to change much in a wider, more meaningful sense, we can't change what has happened, nor what will come, but we can each do small things. Smiling at strangers, kind gestures, challenging people when they are casually racist or discriminatory. Stepping in when abuse is happening in front of us. We can even pass a note to someone we know is in distress. We don’t have much else, and even those small things can’t change the terrifying and uncertain present we’re living through, still less whatever it is the future holds for us. But if you see someone who needs helps, offer it. Posturing and pontificating on social media is all very well, but it doesn’t do very much to reassure people that they are welcome, they are cared about, that they matter not because of who they are, but simply because they are. Because they are, and we value that. Because they are, and we want them to be. Ignoring things only makes people feel even more isolated, before we can start to think of a way forward together. And come what may, we need to be together.
This isn't my usual stance. Normally I'd be shouting and RANTSWEARING and telling everyone just how soul-twistingly angry I am. I have been, doubtless will be again. But tonight I am just sad. Tonight I am alone. Tonight I am despairing that everything I see seems to be a relentless and unforgiving stretch of misery, bad news, and unkindness.
So be kind. Be brave. Be thoughtful. And not just to people you know, but to anyone who needs it. It will be appreciated; I can assure you of that. And to you, whoever you were, on that bus … I wish I could tell you what that small gesture meant, and how I clung to it. Because if a stranger cared enough about me to do that, then I allowed myself to dare to believe that perhaps I was worth saving after all, despite everything.