Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

photo©2006 - TR Ryan - Bologna, Italy

Bologna - January 2006

This Wordless Wednesday celebrates a wordless moment when two strangers from different parts of the world exchanged not words but small gifts - some more lasting than others. To escape the winter doldrums of Torino, I often jumped on random trains to different parts of Italy for the day or the weekend. This particular Sunday I spent a quiet day in Bologna sitting bundled up in an outdoor cafe scribbling in my journal and alternating between warm cups of macchiato and hot chocolate. How can you not love a city that keeps it's outdoor cafes open in winter; how can you not love a city that worships molten, liquid chocolate -- Bologna is irresistible.

Throughout the afternoon, the scene on this plaza changed a dozen times: churchgoers returning home to the sounds of ringing bells with their pockets full of goodies from the sweet shops, delighted shoppers - arms flushed with treasures purchased from the winter sales; students on bicycles with knapsacks of books in tow; and roving bands of musicians, jugglers and clowns entertaining them all as they passed by.

Through it all remained this gentle, older woman and a single pigeon. Somehow it seemed they belonged together - perhaps united in their common endeavor to survive. They both graced this space with their solitary silhouettes of patience as they endured the day -- lying in wait for what small morsels the kindness of passing strangers might leave behind as they moved through their world.

Most of the day that world seemed to pass right through them without noticing either. It broke my heart to see such perseverance and loneliness go unnoticed and uncared for - like beautiful flowers wilting in a neglected garden.

I packed up all my self-important quiet busyness and decided to make amends on behalf of my fellow travelers that had passed through that day. A few coins, a bag full of roasted nuts and some cast-off pieces of crostini were received like bullions of gold by each. And moments later, both the woman and the bird disappeared into the soft, gray day - perhaps made a little lighter by the kindness of a stranger.

I want to remember this scene always. I will notice this woman every day and again and again and I do so for each person who might pass her without ever acknowledging her humanness or her struggle to survive - for there too, but by the grace of God, we go.

I am reminded now to tend my garden no matter what survives there - no matter what weeds may grace it. A weed is just a flower that no one wants, afterall. I will celebrate those weeds strong enough to persevere there and I will nurture them into flowers -- in an odd way their fight to be noticed and thrive makes my garden, and my world, somehow that much more beautiful.

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