I’m writing this sat at a desk in Gladstone’s Library having spent the last two days listening to interesting people talk about their work and chatting to many lovely people over breakfast, lunch and dinner as we all came together for the library’s Hearth weekend. The last talk, which finished just over an hour ago, was given my Nadine Ghouri, who is a journalist, memoir writer and passionate proponent of human rights. Her words today reduced me to tears several times but the one thing I want to share with you all is an anecdote from the most recent memoir she ghost wrote, The Lightless Sky, the story of Gulwali Passarlay’s journey from Afghanistan to the UK:
During the month that Gulwali spent the Jungle – the camp in Calais that the British government has just paid the French to dismantle – his efforts to reach Britain mostly involved sneaking into lorries and desperately hoping that a) they were going in the right direction and b) he wouldn’t be discovered before they reached his destination. On the occasion in question his hope was wrong on both counts and have gone a significant distance from the Jungle but towards Germany rather than the UK he was chucked out onto the side of the road and left to make his own way back. At which point a French woman pulled up, gave hi a lift for a significant part of the way and also gave him a baguette and a bottle of water. This random act of kindness by a woman, who had no reason to care or offer compassion but nonetheless did both, restored his hope and lifted his spirits. It helped him get through the following days back at the Jungle, gave him the strength to keep going. Her small act had a huge impact on a boy who had spent a year facing the sort of hardships and terrors most of us cannot even imagine.
I have no idea what was going through that lady’s head when she opened her car door to a dishevelled thirteen year old who, thanks to his gruelling journey and chemical burns to his face sustained in an earlier attempt to cross the channel, looked old enough to be classified as 16 when he reached the UK less than a month later. I can only assume that – unlike the people writing the articles in the Daily Mail and the Sun who are currently whipping up hatred and fear against refugees – she saw a human being who was suffering and in need of assistance. She had no idea how long he’d been travelling, where he’d come from or what he was feeling, she just saw a person and helped him in the only way she could.
Hearing the emotion in Nadene’s voice as she recounted the episode, knowing that she’d listened as Gulwali had recounted it to her and so she knew just how profound an impact it had had on him, made me want to be kind when and wherever I can. Each and every day I encounter people who I’ve never met before and will never see again and I have no idea what’s going on in their lives, how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking – and to be fair the same can be said for people I see on a day to day basis but are acquaintances rather than friends. I have no idea if acknowledging them and smiling, holding the door open for them, picking up the thing they’ve just dropped and returning it, telling them I like their coat/top/shoes/bag (to name but a few of the things that could occur) will make a difference to their day but since it might I’m going to make a conscious and concerted effort to do it all the time, rather than just when I remember.
In a world that, at the moment, seems to be heading down a dark and divisive path I want to make an effort to oppose the negativity in all the ways I can. I’m not an activist, my voice isn’t very loud either in real life or on the web, I don’t have enough money to donate to all the causes that need funds, but that doesn’t mean I should just shrug my shoulders and give up. I can’t change the whole world but I can at least try to make a difference in the part of the world I affect no matter how small my actions may seem or how small the consequences of those actions may be.
The phrase ‘be the change you want to see’ may seem trite or overused but right now it seems to me, at least, to be an important one, and one I want to live by.
I realise that this is quite a departure from my usual monthly musings, which are normally a round up of my month, but I crave your indulgence in speaking about something that seems slightly more important than me.
Dog is also not feeling up to providing her usual “Doings of Dog” update thanks to the many, many arseholes people who have been setting off loud and unnecessary fireworks all month and have turned her into a nervous wreck. Both she and I hope normal service will resume next month once Bonfire Night has actually happened.