Today you, tomorrow me

I came across this post on Reddit a couple of weeks back, and was entirely taken by it.  It's one of those simple stories that everyone should just take five minutes to read – of how a person who was really having a rough day was helped out in the most delightful, kind and generous way by a passing family.  The author describes how the man who helped him, who had very poor English, would take no money as a thank-you, but instead simply said "Today you… tomorrow me".  And how the author has taken this to heart and now does whatever he can to help out people he finds who need a little aid.

I think it is a damn fine idea to take into the new year, and the world would undoubtedly be a better place if it was a principle we all lived by.  I'm happy to say I had the experience of the kindness of strangers just a few days ago, and it's left me even more determined to do what I can to help those that need it.  It has also left me thinking about how we each work to balance the good things that others do for us.

Monday wasn't a terribly good day for me.  The Scarlet Girl and I had had a fantastic week staying up in the Lake District, enjoying the peace, quiet and beauty of a Christmas surrounded by an amazing landscape.  But Monday was the time to return home.  Overnight there had been about an inch of snow, but not enough that I thought much of it.  We got up early enough to pack up the car, but the first time I took stuff out to the car I realised we had a problem – the central locking wouldn't work.  And the lights wouldn't come on.  And the engine wouldn't turn over.  Somehow or other we'd left an internal light on for a week (we hadn't been able to see it because the windows were covered in thick frost all week), and the battery was completely flat.

Fortunately, the AA are lovely people, and it was only an hour before a nice man turned up and got the car running again.  But rather unfortunately during that hour the snow that covered the short, hilly, lane on which the car was parked had become compacted and frozen.  This I discovered when I started trying to ease the car along the lane and realised that all I was doing was spinning my wheels.  Literally and metaphorically.

So we set to clearing two paths for the car wheels by breaking up the ice with a couple of spades.  As most of you know, this is damn hard work, particularly when you're facing a 5 hour drive at the end of it.  So it was a great relief when a neighbour spotted what we were doing and dispatched her large son to come out and help us dig, and push, and encourage the car along the lane.  It made the whole process far easier – not simply because there was another person to do the work, but more significantly there were other people to share our trials with, to support and encourage us, and to remind us that other people cared and wanted to help.  The feeling of someone else caring probably did more good than the, much appreciated, actual physical labour that they contributed.

We left them with a bottle of wine and our gratitude, but in the grand scheme of things we weren't really able to pay them back adequately.  But then, I know I've been in this position many times in life.  I have some wonderful friends and some of them have been extraordinarily generous to me – some financially, others with their time and help, others who were simply prepared to listen to me when I was miserable and do whatever they could to try to lift my woes.  With many people you reach a kind of balance with time – they help you move one year, you help them decorate the next; they help you through a break-up, you try to help them out with their work stress.  But there have always been a few people, here and there, sometimes people who have entered and left my life quite quickly, who have been extraordinarily generous, and I know I'm never going to have the chance to pay them back.  They don't need the kind of advice, skills, or material means I can offer.

This used to frustrate me, as I hate the idea of 'taking advantage' of the kindness of others.  But then I realised, that actually no, that's not what I was doing.  Because whilst I'm blessed with these very kind and generous people, from time to time I've been given the opportunity to play that role for someone else.  I've run into a friend or a person I know a little and found that they had a need that I could fulfil.  I happened to be at a point in life where I could offer the advice, or the sympathetic ear, or the physical aid that they needed. Because of the situation they were in I knew they were unlikely to be able to 'return the favour' but I would still sit with them or help them in whatever way I could.  Somewhere deep inside I'd be remembering a person who had shown generosity to me, who had helped me out when I had no chance to give back to them, or who through a long friendship had always freely offered their help whilst never really needing what I could offer them in return.  And I'd think that in that moment I was paying them back, just a little.  Not them in that moment – but just the general balance of aid, the flowing circle of generosity, the principle that "today you, tomorrow me".

So my thanks to the family in the Lakes who helped get my car going (sadly the five hour journey turned out to be a 10 hour journey and I got home to find a flooded flat… so really, not a great day, but the warmth of their generosity stayed with me through it all).  And my thanks to all of my friends who have helped me, aided me and strengthened me over the years.  I've not always been able to repay you directly, for which I'm sorry, but I've tried to pass on the spirit you showed me to others, and perhaps, having passed through many hands, that spirit will eventually return to you at the time it is most needed.

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