I think I picked a terrible time to start this blog. How can I write about travel when all of us need to stay home? How can I entertain the freedom of movement when so many of us are stuck in place? How can I write about discretionary choices when so many of us are constrained financially, medically, and governmentally? It is a challenging and fearful time.
As I lay awake last night I was thinking I should just give up writing for a while. But (as is often the case) the light of day has given me another idea. There are so many times and places along the way in life where I have received kindness from others that I wondered if it might be helpful to share some of these. There are so many people who have reached out to me in compassion, I thought it might be helpful to celebrate them. I know you will have your own examples. So my plan is to search my memory and my journals and see if there are a few stories of kindness I can tell. Here’s one adapted from something I wrote in the fall of 1976:
After my graduation from Lewis and Clark College, I traveled to Egypt to teach English with the Volunteers in Mission Program of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I was 21 years old. I lived in a town called Assyut, Egypt and taught in a school that was an institution founded by American Presbyterian missionaries. While I was there, a group from my home church, Valley Community Presbyterian Church in Portland Oregon, was planning to come to Egypt as tourists. I had arranged to meet them by myself in Luxor, Egypt, where they would be visiting the Valley of the Kings and the amazing archaeological remains there. Looking back, I have always appreciated how I was received by some of the people of Luxor.
I arrived in the city at about 12:30 at night. When I found out the sleeper train carrying my church friends arrived at 5:30 a.m., I set out to find a hotel. As I walked out the door of the train station — a few men started calling out to me, “come to my hotel” and “get in my carriage.” But I was looking for a particular hotel, one called the “Horus,”, and was finally directed there.
The Horus was closed but a shopkeeper next door knocked on the window to get my attention and came out and told me — “we are complete.” The hotel was full. So I asked this man (named Najib) if he knew where I could get a cheap room for the night. Najib woke up one of his co-workers, who was asleep on a wooden couch and got a cushion and began to make a place for me to sleep on the doorstep of his shop. By then, a policeman saw us, asked what we were doing, and said, “come with me.” At that point, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep at Najib’s shop, but I had no idea what was coming next.
To my surprise, the policeman was very friendly and simply took me to the local police station. He took me upstairs to a small office to meet to the officers in charge. Both of them were about my age. One of them began to speak English to me—and though it was the middle of the night—we started a friendly conversation. He shared thoughts with me about his country, his city, and his desire to go to America. Then in his kindness he asked me whether I wanted to have a soldier to find me a hotel? Or did I want to sleep at the station? I was a bit taken aback and told him sleeping at the station was fine. So he took me downstairs to another office, one with with two empty desks, and there I slept, in my sleeping bag, on the floor. It is hard to say how grateful I was for this amazingly generous low cost housing.
The next morning after I awoke I spent a few minutes with Najib to thank him. I then headed off to the train station to meet the church people with whom I would be meeting.
I have never forgotten that night and the kindness that was offered to a young, innocent American in a strange land.
One other short vignette about kindness. I was talking to a good friend of mine today. He is president of a company that works in the hospitality industry. Two days ago he told me they had cancellations for events that equalled $500,000 in revenue. Today he told me the cancellations were now approaching a million. What he did today was the picture of compassion. One very real option he could have chosen was to close his business and lay off all employees to preserve and sustain the company for a while. But he made a different choice. Knowing that some small business loans were available and that the business had enough resources to support the company for at least two months, he met with his employees and told them that they would remain open. Some salaries would need to be adjusted a bit and a 4 day work week would happen. So, though most previously scheduled parties and events would not be happening, the company would focus on some long neglected projects. They would explore new ways of making income while being a positive force in the community. They would live in hope—sustained by this leader’s kindness.
Spiritual Practice: Look for Kindness
So often when we travel, we are looking for exciting experiences, delicious food, and beautiful images for our Instagram posts. What would happen if we made kindness the focus of our adventures? What if we really attended to what happens along the way and took time to notice and affirm those who offered us kindness? Instead of being frustrated about a broken air conditioner, what if we really appreciated the person who brought us a glass of cold water? Instead of wishing our tour group were a bit more timely, what if we noticed all the people who made it possible for us to get to that out of the way castle? Instead of wishing our stew was a little less bland, what if we remembered all the people who offered us samples of their cheeses, meats, jellies, and breads? Instead of cursing our spotty cell phone service, what if we took a little more time to get to know the person who set aside their agenda to guide us through narrow streets to the the local mosque? Instead of focusing on being taken care of, what if we just celebrated the sheer gift of kindnesses small and large?
Next time you travel, to Greece or the grocery store, to Hungary or to the hospital, to China or to your church: pay attention—and celebrate—kindness.