This is my second “train blog” on the journey from Venice to Naples. If I can do one more before we arrive, I’ll have a trilogy.
When we were boarding in Venice, Page and I had to walk down a long railway platform. Our car was at the very end (which when we arrive will be at the very front – go figure!). In any event, two women were walking ahead of us, rather slowly. Really slowly, as a matter of fact. So, we reached a point where I decided it was time to pass. I veered to the left, shifted my steps into high gear, and went around them. I’m not sure why. The train was not going to leave until all passengers were on board. I really didn’t need to get to my seat before anyone else because that would just mean sitting there longer. But, you know how most of us are about lines. Just watch what happens when it’s time to board in an airport. People practically stampede one another to get near the front of the line despite the fact that the plane won’t take off until the final person has been seated. Human nature is an interesting thing.
Anyway, having made my way around the two women (and having spotted the door where I was to board), I heard Page calling my name. Looking back, she was standing with the women and motioning me to join her. No, no. Not a good idea. I had just executed a flawless pass. I was going to get to sit in my seat longer than some others. I was experiencing the adrenaline rush of being in a hurry for no sane reason. When you’re doing that, the last thing on your mind is shifting into reverse. But, like it or not, I had been “Paged.”
When I returned to my wife and the women standing with her, Page pointed at one of them and said to me, “Do you mind taking her bag?” What? I had my own bag. And a briefcase. The woman’s bag had wheels. Just pull it. It will move. I’ve seen it happen. But then I noticed the woman (even more advanced in years than I am) was wearing a knee brace on the outside of her slacks. One arm was in a sling. With no small measure of guilt, I said, “Here, let me take that for you.” She sighed audibly and said with a grateful smile, “You are so kind. I fell down some stairs in Venice and hurt my knee, arm, and head. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get my luggage on board.” (Her friend, by the way, was even more aged than she, very small, and stooped with spinal arthritis, precluding the possibility that she could have served very effectively as an ad hoc porter.) By now my feelings of guilt had reached the red zone, aided by Page’s cheerful assistance to the other woman coupled with her periodic glances at me as if to say, “Are you happy with having dashed around two senior adult women with heavy bags plus crippling illnesses and injuries?” When we got the two in their seats with their bags safely tucked away, one of them said to my wife, “I can’t believe we could be this lucky. It must be because this is my birthday.”
It really doesn’t cost anything to be kind to people. And kindness usually begins with simply noticing. Jesus frequently called it “having eyes to see.” I saw two people who were slowing me down in my pointless sprint to wait. Page saw two people struggling to make a difficult journey. I saw bags that should be easy enough to roll without anyone’s assistance. Page saw women who were not physically able to lift their bags from the landing onto the train. “Eyes to see.” And when I finally was forced to view reality (and more or less shamed into offering assistance), what I saw next were smiles and gratitude. One woman even referred to our minimal acts of kindness as her birthday gift.
If we keep the eyes of our hearts open, every day we will see someone who needs something we can offer. And that something may seem extraordinarily minimal to us – as small as a smile, a hug, an e-mail that just says “Thinking of you,” etc. But to the person on the receiving end, well, you never know. What seems small to us may seem enormous to them, like a weary and bruised traveler with luggage too heavy to lift alone.