The power of kindness, April 5th, 2016

The title looks too grand for the little and self-centered opinions I wish to share here, in a post that might be a bit more personal than the previous ones where I tried to emulate other people to help out. But in some way, it feels right to share that as well.

Today was my first day back to the Welcome Class after the holidays. Because other kids at school are having their final exams, our classes were suspended, so we took the kids for a walk in the surroundings. It gave us three teachers the opportunity to interact with the kids in the different way, not that there is much formality anyway during class hours since there always is the language barrier to overcome first. Formalities come second.

Today was a time where we could listen to stories, while strolling around a beautiful lake. I could listen to the kids’ dreams, I could see how much valuable they think adult advise is, and that is really intimidating as a teacher. I wasn’t at my best today to give advice, recovering from an illness, and being slightly elsewhere in my mind. I was seeing those kids discovering a new environment, being safe and happy, and thinking of others stranded on Greek Islands when not drowned at sea and condemned to go back to misery because of egotistic politics. Nevertheless, those kids here in Berlin today were happy, taking selfies, listening to crap music instead of listening to the birds – your regular young and careless teens. I loved it.

As I reflected upon the day on the way back home, I wondered where all the energy I was giving to refugees over the past few months had gone. I teach to them now, and I love doing it, but I go way less to the shelters than before, and feel bad about it. Yesterday, someone interviewed me so I could give advise to other people and fellow expats who would like to get involved by telling them how to help out. She was also a journalist, and a very kind one at that. I felt intimidated, again, because I just did and try to do my best when I started helping. And as a journalist, you’re better at asking questions than at answering them. All I could advise was to get out there and try and do one’s best. And regarding what I gain in helping others? A lot of distress in seeing other people’s pains, but also the realization that my own sorrows are all but relative compared to that of others. And a great joy if I can even for one moment ease their pain even just a little.

Yet, and that took me some time to realize, kindness is vital to everyone. Also to those who like to give. And today as I needed it, and couldn’t obtain it from my loved ones, I was lucky enough to be randomly rewarded by unexpected gestures of kindness coming from strangers. On the train home, as I was putting my bag on my lap, a Turkish woman looked appreciatively at my trousers. She told me she had a similar pair when she had been my age. She could have been my mother. I mentioned a hole I would need to sew, dismissing the compliment, and we started talking about sewing, and all the while her sparkly eyes were sending waves of kindness to me. She asked me about my job, noted I wasn’t German by my accent, told me she had arrived in Berlin in 1986, initially just for one year. We shared our stories of expats in this country, we shared our views on how this country has changed, has remained the same. All that starting with a remark on a pair of trousers. We talked about Turkey, about refugees, about teaching. And when I reached my station, I thanked her, and told her I had really enjoyed our chat. She gave me a brief but warm embrace, as you do to old friends, and it felt  like the most natural thing in the world, to be embraced by a stranger. I hadn’t known it before but I had needed just that at that moment.

Later that day, I met a man, who again was old enough to be one of my parent. As we talked about our occupations, he told me he was born in the DDR which he had fled as a young man, long before the fall of the wall. I was so interested in knowing how he had managed to escape and how he felt about it, how it was like to live there at the time. He told me in details how he had organized his escape, what it meant to be young in the DDR, how he parted with his family, what he felt at the moment he finally found himself free. He shared things that are usually destined to close ones but sometimes easier to share with strangers. I felt lucky that he shared it with the perfect anonymous I was. This was an act of indescribable kindness.

As I reached home, I opened my mailbox only to discover a disdainful and nasty work-related e-mail. And armed with all the kindness I had experienced in that day, and knowing I would give again, and receive it again when I would least expect it, I simply didn’t let it affect me. We live in a strange world full of disappointing moments, and sadly more often than not full of nonsensical political games and horrors, so why not relish in those providential moments of grace that life almost never forgets to bestow upon those who need it.

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