I was going to post something different today but something happened this weekend that reminded me that one person’s actions can influence the path of someones else’s life forever.
Me? I’m the person who was influenced.
I was given a gift, a very special gift.
Remember a few days ago I wrote about the Rugby Street Church in Christchurch New Zealand and the church hall behind it that has now been completely demolished due to earthquake damage?
Well this place holds a special place in my heart for more reasons than just the dances and fun times I had there.
I went to this youth group because I was friends with a brother and sister who parents had a holiday house in the same place as my family did.
These two people came into my life during some turbulent years and I valued the fact that they accepted me for who I was and we got on well, so when they invited me to come along to their youth group I said yes.
My parents were semi-neutral about my joining this group and although I had a sister who rarely went out and for whom they were a ready and willing taxi service, when I expressed hope of the same it was made clear that my bike was in the bike-shed and if I wanted to get there, I could do so under my own steam.
Since I lived in the shadow of the Port Hills on the other side of town I therefore commuted to and from the friday night youth group by ten-speed bicycle.
One day when I was locking up my bike outside Rugby Street hall another member of the group, (“M”) came over and wondered why I hadn’t walked to the meeting. (It appeared that he assumed I lived close to the brother and sister friends who lived a short walk away.)
I laughed, told him where I lived and thought nothing more about it.
A few weeks later “M” came and told me that he was really worried about the idea of me cycling home in the dark alone, especially through the often deserted one -way system that I used to get home.
I’ll explain why he said that.
In the “wisdom”and thinking of the day, Christchurch’s City fathers planned the layout of their new city in a concise looking grid pattern before even leaving England, which got somewhat complicated when they imposed it on a landscape on the other side of the world that surprised them with added features like meandering rivers.
The grid pattern road system worked well on paper, but when motor vehicles were added to the equation, reality was that the sheer number of intersections meant more traffic lights than city inhabitants and crossing the city became a nightmare.
One day someone had a bright idea and turned designated streets into one-way systems with synchronised traffic lights for speedy travel north/south and east/west on each of the four sides of the city centre.
Good, the system worked well enough, but it was synchronised for car speed and not bicycle speed so for cyclists there were many stops along it anyway.
I still considered the one-way streets safer than the very busy Columbo Street because there wasn’t much space on Colombo for bikes and I wanted to avoid the weekend inebriated who hung out around Catherdral Square.
The one-way systems were by far the quickest routes, but often the most lonely too, light industrial businesses had strung up along many of them, the inner city residences that there were, were few and far between and because this was an area of the city that might be termed as “an old-established, pre-regeneration area” the houses tended to be more run-down needing some obvious TLC, than inner city chic.
“M’ was worried about my safely cycling alone here at night and said he wanted to borrow his father’s car and drive me home. My problem with this idea was that “M” lived very close to the Rugby Street church and my house was a long long way out of his way… not only that, but it rankled with me that I couldn’t afford to give him petrol money, so in my pride and stubbornness I politely refused his offer.
Several offers of a lift later, also politely refused, and despite assurances that no petrol money was needed (after finding out that it was one of my reasons for declining) “M” took matters into his own hands.
When I got on my bike and cycled home in the dark, he would follow a safe distance behind me in his father’s car, made sure that I got up my driveway ok, and then wave and drive home again.
Since I was resolute in my opinion that his actions weren’t necessary and hope he would grow tired of it, I continued to cycle as usual and he continued this process until one summer night when our youth meeting had gone on far longer than usual.
It was well past midnight, but the weather was still balmy, it had been tropical all day so I was wearing a tee-shirt and skirt as I cycled home as usual.
The one-way street that would take me south was Barbadous Street and it was really quiet… the odd car passed but other than “M” following slowly behind the streets were deserted.
I’d been waiting at the traffic lights because of course they were phased for car speed and not cycle speed, and when they turned green off I went. All of a sudden I heard a strange noise… a sort of “whop whop, then a pause and again “whop whop”.
More than the noise I now noticed a strange light in the darkness and still cycling, turned my head to see what it was.
Imagine my shock to see “M’s”car pulled over to the side of the road with a police car next to it… there was no siren on but police car’s light’s were flashing and this was the strange light that I had noticed.
I turned around on my bike and cycled back to find poor “M” tying to explain to the police that he was on a mission to assure my safety and that he wasn’t actually stalking the female cyclist as it certainly looked to them.
The look of relief on his face when I arrived back to confirm his story will stay with me for the rest of my days, so will the incredulous looks on the faces of the police officers at the whole situation before them.
My pride and stubborness were knocked down quite a bit that night and not wanting to embarrass “M’ further we quickly thanked the police for their concern and intervention, put the bike in the back of the station-wagon and drove the rest of the way home.
Outside my door we sat in the car and had a long talk. It wasn’t about the petrol money “M” said, or the time, effort or distance, it was because he really worried that something might have happened to me on one of these nightime journeys and he had the means to make sure nothing did.
He wanted to help, not only for me but for his own peace of mind… this had really been worrying him and he wanted to help.
Then he said words to this effect: “Sometimes someone just wants to give, they know you can’t pay them back, but that’s not the point… payback to me isn’t needed.
Maybe instead, one day, some time , somewhere in life you will find someone who has a need that you can meet.
It might have nothing to do with cash, it could be your time, your talent, a skill, a listening ear, it may indeed be financial … but most often you will find that your time and efforts are needed far far more than money.
When you see this situation and can meet the need, just do what you can and in doing so you will have paid me back in full.”
His words that night changed a lot of things in my life, not least my attitude because it made a good dent in my stubborn streak.
The biggest lessons I have learned from this … is that help often comes to you when you least expect it and in guises you never dreamed of …. that giving back brings a satisfaction that you never imagined possible…. and that if you have your eyes open you will always find someone who could use a helping hand and that both parties can be richer for having given and received.
Whilst I have never “given”with the expectaion of anything in return, I can tell you that I have often experienced some very strange situations in my life in which seemingly unrelated chains of events have slotted together prefectly to ease a complication in my life.
Is this “karma”or a case of “what goes around comes around”? Who knows…
I am richer as a person because I have learned that when I give, I grow.
For various reasons I now longer attend church but I don’t think that having faith is necessarily defined by church attendance, for me it’s all about the maxim “to whom much is given, much is required“.
Sadly I lost touch with “M” long ago, but I will continue to be influenced by him because his kindness and his words changed me and widened my horizons. I can only hope that every now and again he is blessed in receiving a random act of kindness from a complete stranger whenever he needs it too.
The best thing about a random act of kindness? …. Passing it on.