23) Baptised with Charity

The retired abbot of a regional, still active monastery enjoyed his well deserved vacation on a sunny park bench. An elderly lady joined him, making a well-groomed impression on him. After a while he asked the lady if she believed in god. Puzzled, she wanted to know the reason for the question. The abbot answered with a smile; „One must have a very good relationship with the Lord God to be endowed with so much beauty“. The conversation took its course and the abbot told of his monastery and the efforts it had cost to make it worth seeing. Even the baptismal font of the church was renewed. Now only a special stone figure was needed to complete the baptismal font. Smiling, the interested listener mentioned that she could possibly help, since she was artistically active in this direction. That would hardly be possible, replied the abbot, because the financial resources of his monastery would not exceed half of the expected price of the work of art. Thus, the unobtrusive cleric wanted to end the subject. But not the elderly lady. She had taken pleasure in the conversation and her heart opened spontaneously. They agreed on a friendship price and the order was agreed „bank-conform“ on that park bench.

Meanwhile, the work is completed and decorates the baptismal font with the words: „AN ACT OF CHARITY“

22) Streetdance in Vienna

It is mid-autumn, in the evening around 7pm it is already dark and Vienna is only enlightened by bright lanterns. Thousands of them, just like the people that fill the city centre also during weekdays. We drive a few stations with the underground, then we leave at our station, step on the escalator, go up one floor. There we can see the staircase that leads to the exit of the station. And we see an elderly woman dancing.

The exit area of the underground station is reserved as a space for street musicians. This evening a rapper took the space. But more attention than to him is although paid to a woman of older age in a bright-pink jacket, who is moving careful but with a lot of enthusiasm to the music. While most people just pass, maybe smile for a moment, she is enjoying the music and dances. For herself and for others. She raises her walking stick and moves it in time with the music, she is approaching a group of younger people who are happy about her and invites them to dance with like her.

When do you reach a point in life where you do not care about what others think, but where you are truly yourself? This woman has certainly made many people smile on this evening.

21) My English Teacher

This is a more historical story from the years of WWII- a friend described it to me and I will try to recite it for you.

The story is about a special case of neighbourly help. Or, to be more precise, the try of neighbourly help.

„After the Second world war, in the by Russia occupied area of Germany there were radikal measurements against former NSDAP party members. Public officials, that entered the party in the third realm to be able to continue working as teachers or civil servants, lost their jobs, were conscripted for hard works or imprisoned. Out of this time stem many stories of espionage and betrayal, even among families, friends, acquaintances and neighbours. But there are also examples of unexpected help and about this is the family I will tell about today.

H. was an English teacher at the local high school and was one of those teachers, who only became a member of the NSDAP to be able to continue teaching. Therefore he was later forced to work in coal mining. He was known, also in later years, as sealed, dotty, and unsociable, not as that kind of person who you would expect a brave, altruistic action from. And still, he did put himself in danger for the sake of his neighbour. Without the existence of an especially familiar or friendly connection, it was not more than correct, but a cool relationship. But still, he tried to help.

H.’s neighbour W. was imprisoned, because of his NSDAP membership that he had to have as civil servant. W. was known as a person, that could never hurt anyone.

Only after H.’s it became know through his estate/legacy, that he has been trying to fight for the freedom of his neighbour W.- without making this known, without being in a friendship with him. Vehement and with an extensive reasoning he argued for W.’s release. And even though he was not successful, solely the fact that he tried was not self-evident in the situation in this time. But a surprisingly selfless action for someone he knew.

Later generations cannot really imagine, under what pressure especially in the years of war and those following stood. Who dared despite the threat of punishment to defend or help another human, is therefore someone special.“

20) Civil Courage

This story is mainly about civil courage as it is written in a book.

Just a little while ago I read in the news again, that filming accidents instead of helping  is increasingly a problem. A few days later I experienced although, that it can also be completely different.

We were three friends, on a cycling trip for a few days. On the second morning it was raining cats and dogs, but a bit after nine o’clock the rain became less. After it had stopped, we made ourselves immediately on the way. But thanks to a conjunction of unfortunate circumstances we did not even make it out of the village. The street that was still wet from the rain, the steep descent, the sharp corner, the one-sided loaded bike with out mountain bike wheels- it looked like in a movie, when you see in slow motion how the wheels slide away and my friend landed on the street. And if out of three people two are wearing a helmet, then it will certainly strike the one without. Incapable of compensating the energy of the momentum, she hit with the back of her head short but heavy on the ground.

That is the first moment, where you still hope that it was not that bad- until you can see the blood and know that you now have to help quickly. We were immediately next to her side- one called the ambulance, the other one helped our friend. Supporting her and with red hands, I tried to stop the bleeding, but after that I also did not know for a few seconds how to continue. In the first few moments you react automatically, until you know the situation is not life threatening and help will come. We just had to wait for the ambulance to come, but for a moment I did not know what best to do until that.

In this situation came the village community and bypassing people to our help. A woman who was driving by in a car stopped and asked if we needed her first aid kit from the car. A marvellous idea! Together with another woman, that came, she helped me to bandage the laceration. Other people offered water or tissues. Several asked if we needed more help, but also left us in peace when we explained that now everything was under control. No one was just standing around and watching, but they were also not too many and stayed calm. Someone from the village brought the bike, that we could not transport ourselves, later to the next town to the hospital.

We were not a second without support. And that fills me with gratitude and I was very happy to observe that: how without a second of doubting strangers came to our help. Self-evident we could think, but according to the news that is not always the case. But we experienced such a positive example in a moment of bad luck.

19) The Invisible Train Station Hero

Another train station story I remember, in that I am owing someone a lot of gratitude because of a happening a few years ago.

Again, not necessarily one of my smartest moves. Over night I drove by train from work back to home. There I has between 1 and 4 am a stopover in Schweinfurt. I had expected this city to be a bit bigger and the train station not to close overnight. But exactly that was the case. It was beginning of March, not below zero degrees in the night anymore, but still fresh. The first hour I could actually still rest on a bench, but afterwards it became quite uncomfortable. That is again such a story where I should say up front that I do not necessarily recommend to anyone to stay a night alone at a train station. But that is not my point, just a side note to my improvidence. My saviour for a comfortable night came in the shape of a worker on the train station, who came in the middle of the night for cleaning. He asked me what I was doing at the train station and how long I still had to wait. Then he asked me if I wanted to come into the building. He opened it and I was sitting down in the foyer. And even when he was finished with cleaning and left again, he offered me to stay until my train would come. That way I could even sleep a bit, on the floor next to the heater.

When I am thinking back, I am still thankful to the man whose face I already forgot, for his helpfulness, his trust and his empathy (and no critique). His action was not self-evidence.

18) Midnightsnack

Completely tired out I arrive in the middle of the night at Berlin Central Station. Here I will have to stay for the next four hours, until my train leaves. Already last night I stayed in various trains on my way from the North into my hometown, tonight I am on the way back. The reasons are not important for this story, but know that I happily took this effort. But I was still wondering, in the second night without a bed, with little sleep sitting at Berlin Central Station, how I am supposed to  pass the time. At least I am save from the cold of the night. I decide: if I already have all this extra effort, then I can also give myself a treat. A bakery in the central station has still opened quarter past one in the night and I get myself a “Franzbrötchen”, that I take with me to the bench on my platform. My awareness is not that attentive anymore. Therefore I do not notice until now, that I open the bag, that the guy from the shop did put two extra pieces of sweet pastry into it. I had not noticed it in that moment and for that reason also not thanked for it. The salesman completely surprised me with that present. Silent, without any comment, without searching for recognition or gratitude, not with the purpose to get anything back- he did it just like this.

Very sweet, literally.

17) Nothing small

Stories of small things and gestures I especially enjoy- they can happen in everyday life and can, if you notice them, beautify a day in a simple way.

It might be the giving the still valid parking ticket to the next person, before continuing the journey,  as my travel companion in Scotland did.

Or bringing back something lost to another person- even if it is only the bottle or 50 pence, two examples I can think of in the past weeks.

Or it can be the giving the bottle return receipt to another person, so that they can collect the money. That is what my colleague recently did. He said, he did not want to walk the 100 meter to get the money back. But I think this gesture still has something friendly. It has something to do with thinking also of others, not just yourself.

Small actions, that you would not have to do, but that make yourself and others happy.

Every little gesture of mine can be something special for another person.

16) Yes, I’m listening…

Listening is a special art. I mean active listening, not just with half an ear. Listening in a way that you pay full attention to another person, that you are really interested in what the other one says. That is something Michael Ende already said in his beautiful book “Momo”: it is important to listen in the right way!

I get the impression that many people do not get heard these days, when they want to say something. Or no one is listening long enough to them, because time seems to be missing. Or maybe it only seems to us that the others are not listening properly. At work I often meet people, that do not want to talk to me, but they want to tell me something. Then it seems like they have no one else, who can listen to what they have to say, than a stranger who is standing in the streets, trying to do its job. I remind you of the very first story, “Listening in Berlin”.

Listening can be practised. At my university there is a regular meeting, that is dealing with exactly that. In the round of talks it is everyones turn once. Everybody has a certain timeframe for talking, to get something of their chest or talk about anything random. And the others have to listen. No one is allowed to interrupt, no commenting, just listening. And often, this is already enough.

A similar exercise is what we did just a while ago, in a seminar that was a lot about the right way to communicate. We had to sit back-to-back with another person and then had at first one person, then the other one two minutes time to talk about anything. And the second person had two minutes a silent intermission. Afterwards we were supposed to repeat the core message of the other one. What had happened? I completely embarked to the narration of my partner, because I knew it was her time to talk now. And her story had my full attention. Because we were sitting back-to-back and the sound was hindered, I had to listen even better to not miss out on anything. I thought it was a great exercise.

This might be a bit unusual text for this purpose, not really a story, but I am convinced that listening to each other will bring us all further together.

15) Travel stories of Welsh (and French) humanity

While traveling, when you are not in your usual environment, special gestures stand out more. Therefore I can tell you about a few new travel encounters. Encounters of simple helpfulness and empathy. But maybe Welsh people, who’s land I visited, are also especially friendly people.

I arrived in the evening by train at the edge of a small, Welsh village and wanted to take the bus towards the centre. As I went to the bus stop, the bus is closing its doors and slowly starts driving. In my German brain I’m thinking, that I came late and missed the bus and I turn in the opposite direction to walk to the village.

A judgement made too early. A moment later, the bus hoots behind me. The bus driver opens the doors and says, that she just wanted to come towards me and my heavy backpack. incident might have not been anything special for her and she has probably already forgotten about it. But it stayed in my mind as something special.

A day later, after a long day of hiking and another bus journey, I was searching in the evening for an accommodation. I didn’t know before where I would be going in the evening, therefore I hadn’t booked anything and walked in the rain and on the off chance to a bunkhouse hostel. It was a risk- and first I looked like I had lost it, because everything was booked out. But the two Frenchmen that have been renting the bunkhouse invited me immediately into the house and offered me a cup of tea. Then they called with the landlords about me staying at their place (where still several beds were free). The landlords left the decision up to them- and I had spontaneously two very nice and uncomplicated hosts.

Just like this- out of kindness, generosity, humanity- however you want to call it.

14) The Will to Help

This story is about the rescuing of refugees in the Mediterranean sea. A classical image for me, when I think about the aim of this project. And an image that is often discussed. About the signs that are sent with it.

For me it is a signal of empathy and willingness to help. Then the volunteers do not get paid or a certificate for their CV and from many people and institutions not even understanding or support. What is it then, that motivates them to do something like that? Humanity is what I would say.

A friend, E., left 2017 for a sea rescue service. For him, it was a shocking picture that encouraged him to become active himself: the widely known photo of a dead child, whose body was washed ashore. Die deaf sign, symbol of the innocence of children and the finality of death, has moved many people. For E. it meant that he did not longer want such catastrophes to take place. “We are a human family”, is what he says.

That is how he ended up volunteering for a non-governmental organisation, for who he came to the Mediterranean sea- not for holiday but to support a sea rescue mission. Together with a group of more volunteers he searched at the coast in front of Libya. Sea rescue service, for clarification, means to intervene in life-threatening accidents on the sea. Life jackets and water bottles were distributed to the often badly equipped and informed refugees in the boats and the sea rescue coordination centre informed. They do not do any transport themselves. But that creates already ethical questions, especially in health emergencies. The volunteers on board need to be aware before every mission, that they might not be able to help everyone. Medical emergency response is intended, but it can happen that it is already too late for some- and even though you want to help everyone, the resources should be saved for cases that are not lost. That is also part of it and everyone has to question him/herself beforehand, what they can deal with and what they are up to do. Because as many things, humanity is not a simple concept, but one with different faces and angles.

E. and his co-volunteers did at the end despite their open eyes not once have to be active, just as other organisation in this timeframe. Background were the increased measure of the Libyan and Italian coastguard, that made sea rescue impossible for them. And still- through the reports of friends like him, the pictures from the news are suddenly close. And you can ask yourself: what kind of a person do you want to be?

foto: SK
foto: ED