At the beginning of each new year, I write down my New Year’s goals on a paper piece, which I will keep in my notebook throughout the year. It is very stimulating to read it from time to time and markdown most of the goals you set at the end of the year. While I have been writing down 2021 aims, one of the items on my list has reminded me of an episode that happened a few years ago, while I was coming back home, after an exhausting day. I am telling you about it and sharing a couple of thoughts.
It was a winter afternoon, I don’t remember what month it was, and Trenitalia (the Italian public rail system) was not late, surprisingly. Indeed, one should know that the Italian public rail system is always late: the expected ordinary delay is about 15 minutes! So, that day, it seemed to be an unexpected, on schedule homecoming. However, when we stopped in Bologna, they announced that we had to get off and change the train due to a locomotive’s failure. Oh, it was so annoying! One time we could come home on time!
Moreover, they let us out, and we went to the announced platform, but a few minutes after the replacement train’s coming, they changed the platform again. As Italians, we have a gift for making a mess of an already chaotic situation so, to cut a long story short, it got crazy!
A gentleman approached me and asked me, in a very bashful and polite manner, if I understood where we had to go and which train to take to get to Parma. I answered and invited him not to worry and to follow me to the right platform since, unfortunately, I was used to the daily challenges of the Italian railway service.
On the train we started chatting. The man was holding a big black bag and sandals with socks. He was a teacher from Morocco and, after years of teaching in Spain, he had just moved to Italy and was trying to get his family to move to Parma. He was amiable and listened willingly to my stories about what I was studying, what it was like to live in Emilia and the not-so-nice comments about the ordinary Trenitalia’s delays. The conversation didn’t last long because it takes only fifteen minutes from Bologna to my stop, but before getting off, he thanked me very much and, as a sign of gratitude, he took a pomegranate out of his black bag and gave it to me. Oh yeah, a real pomegranate, and I let you imagine my face when I figured out what it was. I mean, I could understand a chocolate, an apple, but a pomegranate! It was unexpected, for sure! But I was pleased, and while I was walking home, I put myself in his shoes.
People have probably never been so lovely and chatty after an exhausting working day. Finding someone who not only points you to the right platform, but accompanies you and keeps you company should have been something extraordinary for him, as it probably would have been for everyone else. And maybe even having a word with someone at the end of the day was not so usual for him, totally alone in a foreign country, working to support his family far away. I went back home with a toothy smile, despite the tiring day, and so happy to have made someone’s day a better day! I’ll let you imagine my mother’s face when, after a day at university, I crossed the threshold with a pomegranate in my hand. Not even a child on Christmas Day would have been happier than me!
I wanted to tell you this story because I think that, during these stressful times more than ever, when we are forced to reinvent our daily lives, it is essential to be kind. Not big things, not epic gestures, but a smile, a chat or a ‘good morning’ can make a difference. We never know who is in front of us, we never are fully aware of the challenges they are facing, we don’t know their thoughts, and maybe we don’t even know their names (oh right, even this time, I forgot to ask for the name). However, a smile and a bit of kindness always make other people’s day better. Oh no, I’m not so gentle to say “always turn the other cheek”; I believe that bitchy people exist, but I also think that we can’t leave the world to the wickedness of those ones. We all should roll up our sleeves and try to be the change we wish to see in the world, as Gandhi said (this is one of my mantras). And just as meanness is contagious, I want to believe that kindness also follows a kind of cascade effect. I want to keep thinking that if today I act kindly towards someone, tomorrow they will want to embellish someone else’s life with a little bit of kindness. And if you believe that practising random acts of kindness is something completely free, try how the heart warms up when you make someone’s day better! And so yes, I want to believe in and strive for a more smiling world, for tighter hugs and more sincere words.
And with this very romantic and optimistic thought, I wish you a Happy New Year, full of smiles, kindness and hugs. And who knows, maybe even pomegranates!
If you liked this story, you would also enjoy the story about the Buddhist monk and his speech about happiness: