The Kindness of Strangers
The other day my wife was on a train to a business meeting in Yorkshire. A poor young woman was in the same carriage, traveling for a job interview using a cheap ticket that turned out to be invalid for the particular journey. The conductor behaved in an unsympathetic fashion, humiliating the young woman and threatening her with prosecution until my wife stepped in and bought the necessary ticket. As she told the conductor, ‘I can afford to pay and she can’t.’
My wife didn’t bother to tell me about this incident. She didn’t need my permission to spend the money and virtue-signalling would be completely out of character. In fact, I would never have heard about the matter if it hadn’t become relevant to a discussion about the various benefits well-off elderly people (i.e. us two) get that are denied to poorer younger people.
I wasn’t surprised that my wife bought the young woman’s train ticket – indeed, I’d have been surprised if she hadn’t. But I am immensely proud of her. It was another example of her great kindness and sympathy towards other people, for which she doesn’t seek any acknowledgement or reward.
Fifty years ago, when we were in our early twenties and moved to London after university – two poor working-class kids who knew very little of the world – we found our feet because strangers who owed us nothing showed us friendship and disinterested kindness. The memory has lasted and profoundly affected our own attitudes and behaviour.
I know nothing of the young woman on the train, but I suspect – or, at least hope – that the kindness of my wife will have more effect on her life than the judgmental attitude of the train conductor. In his defence, I suppose he was just doing his job.