A few weeks ago we were standing by the luggage carousel at Malaga Airport waiting for our cases to arrive. Next to us, also waiting, were a middle aged man and a young woman. We got chatting – as you do – and it turned out they were a father and daughter, off to spend a long weekend at a villa he owned nearby. We had a lovely chat, about this and that, especially with the daughter who was in her first year at university. She was fun, vibrant, and immediately likeable.
It also turned out that they were Jewish and lived only a few miles from us in Manchester.
In a few days, while we were in Spain, it was to be the first anniversary of my mother’s death, when it is customary to go to synagogue to say memorial prayers. We knew there was a synagogue in Malaga, and as he was sort of ‘local’, I asked him if he knew anything about it. He said he did, and that he’d text me the details. So we swapped names and numbers and, when our luggage arrived, we said our goodbyes.
He never did get back to me, but we found the synagogue anyway.
Yesterday, in Manchester, we heard through a close friend that the daughter of someone she knew through her work had gone to a beauty salon, had suffered a severe asthma attack, and had died. She mentioned the devastated family’s name, and I knew immediately that it was that lovely, vibrant young woman at the airport.
We’ve just returned from paying our respects to the family at their home. A heartbreaking and heartrending scene, but also one that showed the strength of community as well over a hundred people waited patiently, both inside the house and outside in the rain, to pay their respects.
We approached the father to say the traditional words of comfort. Even in his grief he looked at us that way you look at someone who approaches you as if they know you, but you haven’t the faintest idea who they are. I told him who we were, and how and where we met. He stood up from his low wooden ‘mourning’ chair and hugged me, and smiled, and thanked us for being there…and he asked me if I’d found a synagogue and apologised for not getting back to me. I said I had, and thanked him for pointing us in the right direction. His wife said it was the first time she’d seen him smile.
They both seemed genuinely touched and overwhelmed that a couple of complete strangers should make the effort to visit them and to say words of comfort.
Walking away from the house, we met a couple we knew. He said “It’s just crap, isn’t it? But it makes you stop , doesn’t it?”
Yes, it does, and it also reminded me of something I wrote some years ago, also at a sad time:
‘We forget at our peril just how thin and fragile is the layer of everyday normality, and how easily that layer can be torn and ruptured, sometimes in a matter of seconds…and just how important small acts of kindness are: the smile, the greeting, the helping hand, the thank you, the small talk before getting down to business, are all, in their way, small acts of kindness that bind us together and strengthen the fabric of our lives’.
I know it sounds a bit soppy and clichéd, but give a hug to the people you love and care about, and tell them how much you love and care about them…and do it every day, or certainly whenever the opportunity arises.