I grew up in a very small town, even lived in the same house for the first 18 years of my life before I left and went off to college (the campus was an hour away — gasp!). Unlike some people who are content to never stray far from home, I often think that’s why I was bitten by the travel bug, and bitten hard. I’ve always liked to explore new places, see new sights, meet new people, try different foods, learn new words in a different language and drive on roads that are new to me, just to see what’s around the next curve. I’ve had a quote tacked on the wall above my desk for years that says “Travel is the only thing you spend money on that makes you richer.” I have to agree.
One thing I have learned is that for the most part, people around the world are usually very nice to you. Especially when you remember that you are a guest in their country, just like being a guest in someone’s home, and you bring your best manners. I’ve always thought it rude of Americans to visit in other counties and expect everyone there to speak English. You certainly don’t have to become fluent in a language foreign to you, but you can surely learn how to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you. And it usually comes in pretty handy to know how to say “How much does it cost?” and “Where is the toilet?”
I’m sure it must sound like fingernails on chalkboard to some who’ve heard me struggle with their language, but I have found that just trying goes a long way when you are sincere. I will never forget the kindness of a woman in a shop in Italy 15 years ago. I had been trying to make a call back to the states for a few days to talk with my children and make sure everyone was okay. The telephone calling card I was trying to use from a regular phone wouldn’t work (thank God for cell phones that work internationally now!) and I was starting to panic that I couldn’t get in touch. As I browsed in her shop looking at items to take home to the kids, she asked me about my children. In my broken Italian I managed to tell her that I had a girl and a boy and their ages, but that I had been unable to reach them by telephone and I was worried. After listening to me almost break down in tears, she calmly walked over to her counter and picked up her phone, and then asked me what the telephone number was. She dialed the number, I got to speak to my children and was reassured that everyone was okay and no one had burned the house down, and I simply didn’t know how to thank her enough. She told me that we mothers sometimes had to help each other out, “Si?” I bought a lovely Italian pottery vase she had painted with olive branches from her, and to this day every time I look at it I think of her and how kind she was to a stranger.
So this week I am thinking about how big the world is, but sometimes how small it can be. I am thinking that at our very core, we are all connected. And that Kindness Matters. And kindness can be the one thing that can help soothe hurt and provide a little comfort just when someone needs it most. Too many destructive acts in recent weeks and months, at home and abroad, are hurting too many people. I heard someone comment this week following the sniper attacks on police in Dallas, “Why can’t we all just get along?” While that sounds simple enough, I think there is a simple solution.
Be kind to one another. Find ways to pay it forward every day. Connect with a stranger. A random act of kindness, no matter how small, will have big meaning to those on the receiving end. And who knows, it might just help heal the world.