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

13) When others help you to stand up

This time I make no big words before, only that much: sometimes you need to fall hard, before other people show up.

“Humanity- what is that? Is it something positive? A cynic would say, it is a weakness. I think the answer lies somewhere in between. My boyfriend is addicted to gambling. When he told me that one year ago I did not know at all what that means. And when he backslid in June, when he lost his wage of a whole month and we had to steal food for a few weeks, then I still did not realise, that it would be a problem. It was more like an adventure. Then there came a hard time. His payment of the Federal Law on support in Education (BAföG) was delayed. That was in September. In the following months, something was different. We were nearly like strangers. But the money was not delayed, he just lost it, additionally got into debts and all the food money, that I had somehow scraped up was also gone. That I discovered when I found him in November, starved and with shoe laces around his neck. And in all of this chaos there is supposed to be humanity? Yes, lot’s of it! Because we are still together and we are doing great, better than ever before. Because we have the best friends in the world. Friends, that gave us food and money, that helped me building up our destroyed world, humans who I could not imagine our life without. Whatever happens, my boyfriend and I, we have each other and after all this suffering we can share everything with each other. And we have the smartest, most understanding and funniest friends, with whom we can do sports and theatre and nonsense. Completely unburdened and crazy. What I want to say with this? Humanity are extreme downs, but humanity is also trust and teamwork and warmth. And when you look close enough, you can find your own humanity.”

The story and thoughts of a friend

12) Thumb up on the way

I mentioned it in a previous story: the most diverse people you meet on travels and when being on the road- and also that many diverse characters and attitudes. Many of these meetings helped me to move on along my own way- this time I mean this also in a literal sense.

For example when doing hitchhiking. I always stood together with friends next to the road and we met together many helpful and interesting people. Sometimes we had to wait for hours, on other occasions we got picked up on the first occasion. Sometimes it works better, sometimes less, but the people we met were all special.

There was the young couple in the small and packed car, that still took us with them to our destination. With them we played riddles on the way- guessing the capital of a country and similar ones.

One evening, after we had already commuted a long way and were quite exhausted, so that we only wanted to take the bus to our destination, we still got picked up by two young track workers, that took us with them on their way back from work. Not only to the destination town, but they drove us even to a suitable place to camp at a lake nearby. That had also something positive for them: on the way they noticed, how good of an idea it was on this summer evening, to jump after work once into the lake and they accompanied us. You could say, we gave them something back from our journey.

The first time that I was hitchhiking with a truck driver was a special event, because I had no clue before, how they live. I had always just heard stories. He did not only took me along for hundreds of kilometres, but also got me on the way some lunch and made the effort, to find a place to drop me in the town of my destination- despite additional inconveniences for him.

And whenever my neighbour on the seat next to me was a dog, the journey was a special event for me anyways.

Just last year there was a lot of discussion again about hitchhiking, after a girl disappeared on her way from Germany to Spain. Therefore, to make my message clear for everyone: of course hitchhiking should not be taken too easy! This is not a call to do all the same things as I did. Use your brain and listen to it. And especially for children: do not enter the cars of strangers, that invite you for a ride!

But as usual I only want to show that positive things exist, that good gestures are happening, even though we don’t always hear of them. Which channel would bring the news “today a hitchhiker arrived well”? But it is exactly what we should also hear. The helpful people exists just as they always used to, and they can enrich a day in a way, that a normal bus journey couldn’t.

You never know another person, before you meet them. That might sound very banal, but in some way or another you have to get to know a person. Get over yourself and do a step forward. Therefore I feel gratitude towards those, that took me a bit along their and my journey.

11) Working for Life

Family should be there for each other self-evidently. And friends are like a family, that you choose yourself. But there, where you do not expect it, empathy and support is bringing the most joy. A friend shared an experience with me, about a woman that went beyond her duty at work, for other people’s sake. A beautiful gesture.

“Nearly three weeks ago my grandfather died. Today I have been visiting my grandmother. At the same time she was visited by a person, that I did not know. It was a mobile carer, who, after my grandfather had several operations two years ago, changed his bandages and controlled everything regularly. Since mid 2018 was my grandfather no patient of hers anymore. But she still visited my grandparents on a regular basis, drank coffee with them, talked. And also today she was a great support for my grandmother. And all of this, despite the fact that she has her own family, despite the fact it is not her working time and she is only half as old as my grandmother. And that in a job, where she has a lot of stress and pressure. It shows, with how much passion these people pursue their profession and how much they give to their patients, far beyond their official working hours. A beautiful example of humanity, I think.”