This is a true encounter and one that I will never forget such was the impression it made on me...
Random acts of kindness are amongst those precious moments in life that one never ever forgets. I'm lucky indeed to have experienced many.
An act of kindness can be the smallest of gestures but it is always from the heart to the heart.
One, that I remembered again today, took me back to the 1990's when I fulfilled a long held wish to visit Helsinki. For some unknown reason I had wanted to visit Finland for many years, even at one point contemplating working as a volunteer at a remote monastery in the Finnish countryside. Joining the monks at Valaamo is something I never got around to doing but eventually I did find myself arriving in Helsinki on a cold October day with the sun shining and vivid blue skies above.
I was very taken with the city, it is fresh, beautiful, clean and friendly. But my little journey did not stop there because the following day I decided to get on a boat and go to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
Bear in mind that this was a time when Estonia was barely open to foreigners, having only relatively recently extricated itself from the grip of Soviet Russia. It was undeveloped and something of a secret. I followed a handful of Finns who were crossing the Baltic to stock up on the cheap alcohol that was available in Tallinn. But I was not on the lookout for alcoholic bargains, I was interested in the thrill of entering a land that hitherto many Westerners had never seen. It was also possibly a country that some of my ancestors had passed through when they escaped pogroms in Russia a hundred years earlier.
Arriving with nothing but the clothes I was wearing and a little money I had exchanged into Estonian Kroons in Helsinki, I stepped off the boat at Tallinn docks into a place that appeared to be closed. As the Finns all disappeared from sight, obviously knowing exactly where they would need to go for their drinks, I found myself walking through a deserted area of docks, boats and not much else. There wasn't a soul around and I had no idea which direction to take. In the distance I could make out the spire of a church. Thinking that at least there might be some civilisation there, I set off. The light was dim, the clouds heavy and grey and the whole visit, though exciting in anticipation, was becoming something of an effort.
I headed on uphill for what seemed like an eternity in the direction of the spire. Still I saw no people at all. It was a Sunday but anywhere else in the world, I thought, I would have seen another soul somewhere. Not here. As I approached the spire, turning a corner, I very suddenly found myself in the most beautiful cobbled town square that looked for all the world as though is had emerged from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Turrets, ancient little houses and gargoyles appeared. A mist swirled through the square as if it were a set straight from a Russian ballet. And tiny winding streets led off in all directions. There was no electric light. Instead, every few yards along the pavement there was a torch burning atop a small post in the ground. The fire light from these torches flickered and gave a truly magical glow to the scene. It was stunningly beautiful.
Still I did not see a single soul. I crossed the square and it began to snow, large wet flakes of snow drifting in the air. I stopped to savour this moment in time for I knew even then that I would not see such a place again in my life.
At the other side of the square I began to wonder where I might get something to eat as I realised I had been walking for some time and distance already. With nobody around, and everywhere apparently closed for the day, I was about to give up any hope of food when quite suddenly, out of the mist, emerged a tall woman in a long cape. It seemed that, although I felt completely alone in this wonderland of a town, there were eyes on me as I wandered around. She could either read my mind or just instinctively picked up on my situation because she approached me and asked in broken English if I was hungry. I nodded and said yes. I would think she was in her forties though it was difficult to tell. I could see red hair peeking out from under her hood and the greenest eyes, which looked kind and yet strong. Honestly, I remember thinking that this is the kind of woman one could fall in love with at first sight. Boldly she linked arms with me and we began walking along a street that bordered the town square. Such closeness from a stranger would normally seem very audacious but here it was clearly just a confident friendliness. Abruptly she stopped and motioned to some steps leading steeply up into a very old building. “There”, she said, “there you can find some food.” And then she was gone, as quickly as she appeared, I watched her walking quickly away into the swirling snow. I hesitated briefly but then climbed the old steps. Sure enough I found a small cafe, empty apart from one or two other solo diners. A simple buffet was laid out and for a few Kroons I was able to eat some good food.
I will always remember the mystery woman and her concern for me, a complete stranger. Her simple act of kindness made a memory that will stay with me a lifetime.
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