One day this week I was parked at the El-Wak traffic light. The light was red for me, and I was the third or fourth car. I had just dropped my daughter at school a little earlier than usual and I was looking forward to starting the day.
She had taken a smoothie made by her Mum that morning as part of her breakfast, but she didn't drink it in the car as she would normally have done. As she got out of the car at school she said I could have it. (I suspect she said I could have it because there was spinach in it! Don't mind her; the wife makes wonderful smoothies and they are incredibly healthy.) So I began drinking it as I drove away from school. I didn't have time to eat breakfast so it was most welcome.
I drank some more as I waited at the lights, and from the corner of my right eye, I thought I saw a face turned towards me. My peripheral vision is strange, but I tend to obey it, and I always look when I get a signal. There was a lady in a 2018 registered Honda in the lane next to mine. She was smiling at me and indicated with her hand the same drinking motion I had made with my hand when I was sucking down my daughter's smoothie. You know, a cup held to your lips, tilted high so you can drain the cup.
I smiled back, lowered the window on the passenger side and sheepishly explained that it was my daughter's drink. I don't think she believed me! But she continued smiling anyway. I wished her a good day, she responded, and we parted company. As I drove off I wondered if she thought maybe I had something a little stronger in the cup, maybe some booze? Or was she asking me for a sip??
The reason I told you about this little encounter though has nothing to do with the travel cup I was holding or what I had in it. It has everything to do with the fact that it can be so easy to start your day with a smile. A complete stranger had simply indicated that she had 'caught' me drinking, and she made me smile. That was it. We did not indulge in a prolonged conversation. We did not identify each other. We did not even begin with formal greetings. We had no idea who we were. So why did I drive away feeling lighter than I did a minute before then? And by the by, her smile was lovely…
There's something about chance encounters that make me smile. There's something about brief encounters that resonates within me. There's something about a smile that can make you see the beauty in life. There's something about smoothies with spinach….actually, no, there isn't!
I guess what I am trying to articulate here is that we would all be better people if we made an effort to consciously bring a little light into this dark world of ours. Let me try and sound a little wiser (that will be the day!) by giving you some examples.
When I am in London I make it a point to help people on the Tube. I once helped a young woman (she was white) with a heavy suitcase up a flight of stairs. She looked shocked and frightened! So much so that she didn't even say thank you. I helped another young woman (she was black, Francophone) with her bag upstairs on to the street, and she thanked me in the sexiest French I have ever heard. Another one (she was white) I helped seemed to panic because I grabbed her bag as I passed her and said, "Let me help you with that". She was mighty glad to see me waiting for her at the top of the stairs!
I have helped many a mother with a pram or projectile of sorts up many stairs and the overwhelming response is one of gratitude. But there has also been a fair smattering of shock….which is sad.
I'm not saying that you need to help someone to generate a smile, but I find that it is the easiest way. Of course in 2018 when everyone you see in public is a potential terrorist or serial killer….or Trump supporter….it may not be the best advice to give. But surely we cannot become paralysed in doing good because of fear? And you know, the good that you do to others…
A little old woman (she was white) once changed her seat on a transatlantic flight so that my wife and I could sit beside each other. Within a couple of minutes of this unselfish act, and just before the doors were shut for take-off, the man sitting beside her at the window seat (she was on the aisle) left the flight. He had accidentally left some important documentation behind in the airport and couldn't travel without it. This little old woman suddenly had 2 seats to herself! Boy, did she enjoy it! After take-off and a meal, she stretched out and slept like a baby! I'm no philosopher or priest, but I am sure she got two seats to herself because she helped a toonoo [to wit idiot] and his wife sit together.
I have had occasion to pay for 2 strangers. One was at our neighbourhood grocery store in Dome. A seemingly well-educated woman was 2 people ahead of me in a queue at the counter. There was a delay and I asked the lady if there was a problem. She said she had been caught short by a few cedis. I offered to have it added to my bill (it wasn't more than GHC5). She accepted and mumbled what I presume was some form of thanks and fled. I guess she was embarrassed.
The second occasion was also in our neighbourhood, but this time at a recently opened branch of a foreign chain. Similar situation, I was waiting in a queue to pay and there was a delay. A rather unkempt looking man with a little girl was caught short by a few cedis. I had actually seen them arrive on a motorbike, and then inside. The thing is, they had begun eating and drinking what they had selected from the shelf already. I'm sorry to say that my very cynical mind wondered if it was intentional. Again I offered to cover the shortfall (GHC3 this time). The man thanked me profusely.
Two similar situations, two different responses from the beneficiaries, but I felt good both times. Will I respond the same way in future? I would like to think so.
There was another situation I encountered which came about because of the Arsenal stickers on my car. Again, a traffic light, again another vehicle, this time to my left. My peripheral vision caught a vendor gesturing to me. As I turned to her she moved, and I saw a stranger in a car to my left waving his hand at me. I lowered my window cautiously. And this complete stranger shouted across, "So do you think Wenger should go?" And so started the fastest conversation I have ever had about my beloved Arsenal! Thirty seconds flat, and we both drove off smiling! Oh Arsenal! They have connected me to other long-suffering human beings more than anything in my life!!
Then there was the eminent politician I met in the Koala supermarket at Osu. As she floated around the shop I noticed that her scarf which was twisted around her arm had slipped off and drifted to the floor. I went up behind her, picked it up and handed it to her. She didn't miss a beat: collected the scarf with her right hand as she held her mobile phone to her ear with her left hand, shopping basket on right arm, and continued on her beatific way! Didn't say a word to me, didn't look at my face! Should I have left the scarf on the floor?? But then I wouldn't have had that smile on my face! Anyway, I got my own back: I didn't vote for her party!
She was most, unlike the Japanese gentleman I allowed ahead of me in a queue in a Waitrose. He had one item to pay for and I had a full trolley. He didn't stop thanking me and bowing until he was out of sight….I've done that in Accra quite a few times; you'll be lucky if it is acknowledged in any way.
One of the nicest ways of being a good stranger was a story I read on Yahoo. It involved a woman who baked cookies when she traveled by air and presented them to aircrew. It bowled me over, and I tried it. I can't bake a biscuit to save my life of course, but I can buy Golden Tree chocolate, and I did. The first time I tried it I presented it to the crew just before we landed, thanking them for their service and the reaction was INCREDIBLE! Wow! One of the ladies called me 'a star' as we disembarked! Maybe I should have asked for her number….I've done it a lot more since then, and it is mightily appreciated.
So, be nice a lot more than you have been lately. Please! I am not referring to ordinary day to day manners and courtesy; that is absolutely necessary of course. But….be nice randomly. If you connect with someone over the same incident, mention it, smile over it, laugh over it. But, please, don't go far oh, I beg! I don't want to be mentioned in lawsuits oh!!
Seriously though, it's good for your soul to be happy randomly, as often as possible. There's too much negativity out there and if we can switch on some positivity anywhere….we should.