Leonie Brett, the central character in my novel, has opened her house to people in need. There’s Stef who’s escaped an abusive relationship, Rosa, who’s far from home, searching for her lost brother, Rick, who needs time and space to find his path in life. Leonie offers them somewhere to stay whilst they sort themselves out. This is the house where she herself once found a safe haven and she sees it as a sort of giving back.
Kindness is sometimes difficult to accept. None of us likes being patronized or being treated as a statistic – remember that phrase ‘as cold as charity’? Some of us have unfortunately found that apparently kind people can have a hidden motive, and so are wary.
In my experience genuine kindness is about giving freely and respectfully and expecting nothing in return, not even gratitude. It is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Leonie’s tenants value her because although it’s necessary to have certain house rules, she doesn’t try to direct her tenants’ lives, to be a busybody or to judge them. She’s not perfect, by any means, but is simply being herself, and it’s rather enviable to be like that. Sometimes I am far too anxious about how doing someone an unlooked for favour will be received – will I accidentally offend by being too pushy or making the wrong assumptions about someone’s situation?
Looking back on my life there are several kindnesses that people have done me in times of trouble that really stand out. Three years ago I lay awake in hospital one night after an operation crying with pain and distress. The nurse on duty was too busy to help. Then I heard a friendly voice. It was one of the orderlies who had appeared by my bedside as if from nowhere. She soothed me like a child, made me comfortable and brought me painkillers and a drink. It honestly did feel that I’d been visited by an angel.
When we moved to a new city some years ago, I was at home with three children, knew hardly anyone and felt very lonely. Another mother in the school playground, a complete stranger, invited us to supper and introduced us to others people, some of whom became our friends. My third example is when I was going through a difficult time at work and another colleague passed on a compliment a client had made about me. That made all the difference to my confidence.
Most of us, like Leonie, muddle on. Perhaps, in the end, making the effort is all any of us can do.