Yesterday I read a lovely blog post – lovely simply by dint of its honesty.  These blogs are the ones I love to follow – those written by people who are moved to share their thoughts and their stories and who feel the pull of truth on their writing.  Dan in this post found himself writing something that he did not like about himself, and he shared it anyway.  His is an extremely well-followed blog, unlike my little corner of the universe, and people react to him with the vast array of emotions available to the human race.  Some good, some bad, and some tremendously hurtful emotions.

So he answered them today – something I believe no blogger should feel compelled to do, but something that I believe most bloggers feel to be an integral part of this strange craft.  I just read his answer today, and found it truly lovely.  Having shared a darker part of his past yesterday with seemingly no compunction, no concern about how others’ reactions might affect him, he was far far more reticent to share a bright part of that past.  Sometimes it’s harder to talk about something good we did, because we fear the idea that the good deed was a bargain with the universe: “See, Universe, I did a Good thing… now you owe me.”  Doing something good makes us feel a better person, and at immediately guilt can follow – did I do this to feel good, or did I truly do a good thing.  We are now in the realm of a philosophical discussion about altruism.

So here is my story.  About finally having the courage to step out of my comfort zone… or actually, discomfort zone… and doing something I knew to be right.

We are taught from the youngest age, Don’t talk to Strangers.

We are taught from the youngest age, Be king to Others.

We are rarely taught the difference between these Strangers and Others.

Most of us bumble along, being kind to those most like ourselves.  The old man on the bus who mumbles away to himself, possibly carrying a paper bag and looking unkempt?  He remains a Stranger.  Why?  Because we are afraid.

For a long, long time, I have wanted to be Brave.  I see the pain in people’s eyes, I see the dullness in their faces, and I want to Help.  I want to offer a meal, an ear for a talk.  Money leaves me feeling uncomfortable – often because I don’t carry any, more often because I would rather see a hungry person with a fully belly than…???  Fact number one in this tale… I have preconceptions, and I am stuck firmly in my comfortable, judgemental life.  I don’t want that money to be used on drugs or alcohol.  So the reality is that I am not giving that money.  I am holding on to it while it lives in someone else’s pocket.

This dichotomy has always bothered me, and is the reason why I struggle to hand over money to people in the street.

That’s alright – nothing to stop me handing over a coffee, or a sandwich?  Nope.  Nothing at all.  Except fear.  Accompanied, I’m afraid, by excuses.  After all, I have a baby in a pushchair, it’s not reasonable to approach a homeless person.  I’m in a rush today.  What if …???  That’s the big one… what if?

I’m working on it, ever so slowly.  The cans of soup or dog food (none needing a can opener) added to my shop if I have seen a homeless person sat outside the supermarket… that kind of thing.  But if truth be told, too little, too slow.  (Because I’m not as good a person as I’d like to be.)

And then I am a mother.  To three children, all of whom have disabilities in social functioning.  All of them find it far more difficult than their peers to differentiate between Strangers and People I Know.  One would never interact with either population, Two desperately wants to Help both populations, but is terrified of contact with either, and Three happily gets on with Anyone.

Stranger Awareness is what it’s called in grown-up circles.  Stranger Danger is the term used in school.  And it’s apt: in the last four months in our quiet suburban village, there have been three attempted child abductions.

For One and Three, this area is really very straightforward – when out and about, talk to Your People (family members, carers, staff members, people you know), do not talk to Strangers (people you do not know).  For them, this is what is needed right now.

For my glorious Two, the waters are muddying.  She asked me recently, “Mummy, I don’t understand.  People always tell me not to talk to Strangers, but what if the Stranger is hurt?  Shouldn’t I help them?  Mummy it hurts me when someone is hurting, and I really really want to help, but if they are a Stranger, I’m not supposed to?  I hate it Mummy, what should I do?”.

For Two, whose heart flows into her entire being, the pain of someone she can see is Her pain.  Her intellect may remind her of Stranger Danger, but her Heart tells her, Help.  The difficulty comes because she is incapable of determining truth from manipulation.  Other from Stranger.  And while I love her Heart, she is also still a very little girl, and very vulnerable.  And as much as I hate to close her Heart at all, I need to protect her, and I need to teach her to decide who is Other and who is Stranger… 

A couple of weeks ago, Darling Man and I took Eldest to London.  A lovely day was had by all, though the two boys returned to the station hobbling and moaning about their feet!!  We got on to the train, all smiles… a happy family having experienced a happy family outing (oh my, did I ever think that would happen!!!).  And suddenly I overheard a lady crying on her mobile phone.  I had noticed her sitting down, without more notice than I usually give to Others on the train.  Yet here she was, clearly struggling to contain her emotions, clearly in distress.

My Heart wanted to help.

My Brain went into overdrive, analysing the situation – all of which happened in about one minute.

  • She was clearly an Other, not a Stranger – well dressed, on a train obviously with a ticket, just a nice lady upset.  And yes, my Brain is Judgemental, especially in analysis mode… not really something I’m proud of in this kind of instance, and yet probably necessary to most decision making.  So approaching her posed absolutely no threat to me (or my child sitting with me).
  • Darling Man was with me, so if I approached her, I need not even tell Eldest – he did not need me.
  • Would I be helping if I went to see her?  That was a big one.  To intrude or not?  Would she want her pain and distress to be acknowledged, or was she hoping it was going unnoticed?

Truly, that last point was my biggest if not only hurdle.  And so easily, I could have chosen the easy option.  She was trying to control those tears, she must surely want to be left alone.  At the same time, her pain and hurt were screaming at me.

And I did find inside me to be a little Brave.  To listen to my Heart a little more than my Brain.  I stood, walked to her seat and leaned over to ask quietly, “Are you alright, can I help in any way?”.

She was a little “british” and tried to wave off all that pain, but her eyes were saying, “stay!”.  So I asked her, “would you like me to sit with you?”.  I suspect her brain started listing off the Other vs Stranger debate… and let’s face it, I’m a pretty safe bet: under 5 feet tall, with a slightly mad flowery dress, but nothing to make you run.  Relief flooded her body; her shoulders dropped an inch or so; her mouth curved into a smile; a few tears escaped down her cheek; she said yes please.

We had a lovely chat until I had to leave.  I did ask her if she would like me to continue with her, but she had calmed down enough to feel safe alone, knowing that someone was meeting her at her station.  I met an Other, whose name I will never know.  I learnt her life, which sparkles.  A life with Happies and Sads, Ups and Downs, a sparkly life like so many others.  And in that little moment of pain, I was able to sit with her and wait for the pain to pass.

I had no plans to share this here.  It was a Good thing, one of the few times my Heart led me past ingrained fear of Strangers towards kindness to Others.  And it was not done for pats on the back or congratulations.  It was simply the right thing to do.  But then I read Dan’s post (click on the link up above if you haven’t already), and I thought… he shared a moment of “not being Good”.  It’s not that simple – he did what the vast majority of us would have done.  And he was clobbered for that moment.  I love that as part of his response he dared to share a moment of being Good (I’d like a super capital letter there), because that is as much a part of his Being as the moment when, in his words, he made the wrong decision.

So a little, counter-intuitive part of me is daring to share a moment of making the right decision.  That, and just to put out there in the universe that while there may well be Strangers in our world, there are also Others.