The kindness of a stranger - They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but I beg to differ.Make Comment Mark Commins
When my close friend, Glen Rooney, and I embarked on a cycling trip for Ireland to Istanbul we envisaged tough times, yet I canâ€™t say the thought of starving to death in an EU country ever crossed my mind. But here we were in Hungary, 3,000 km down, cycling though an open expanse and not a shop in sight. What was to be done?
The ultimate goal was to cross the Bosporus which separates Europe from Asia and would mark a total of 5,000 kilometres. We were two of over 440,000 people claiming jobseekers allowance in Ireland when we set off, and were feeling the strains of what was starting to look like a fruitless existence. Luckily for us we were debt free and decided that just because work experience wasnâ€™t available perhaps life experience still was.
The cycling idea came out of the blue. Glen had been reading a book called, â€œTen Lessons from the Roadâ€ by Alastair Humphreys. Hailed as, â€œThe first great adventurer of the new millennium,â€ he is most famous for cycling around the world solo, a total of 74,000 kilometres in 4 years. â€œWe both own bikes and this is what we are going to do,â€ said Glen as he laid out the plan. Obviously budget was going to limit our distance so we settled for a single continent.
It was hilarious planning it as the whole thing seemed so outlandish. But we had nothing to lose. We were frustrated with sitting around and the idea of getting away and taking on a challenge really spoke to us. I donâ€™t know if what I had been feeling could be classed as depression while I was on the dole, but it wasnâ€™t pleasant. What I would say it was like was a feeling of disempowerment, of having no focus or plan.
Caoimhe Clarke, Psychiatrist at St James hospital in Dublin, points out that, â€œGetting away and doing something you enjoy is good. Sometimes we canâ€™t see the wood for the trees and itâ€™s important to take time out with a means to address our problems. I wouldnâ€™t recommend it for anyone with depression. Nor should it be used as escapism. Itâ€™s just a way to put things in perspective.â€
â€œStepping out of our comfort zone forces us to adapt and function better and more comfortably in the world around us. It forms whatâ€™s known as coping skills.â€
On that day in Hungary we had been travelling for seven weeks, and had another three ahead of us, but I always recall that morning as it was one of our lowest moments. We cycled for about 20 km until we finally came across a small town. It came as little surprise to find that there was a bar open but no shop as this seemed to be the fashion in Hungary. Seeing as it was just before noon and there was another 60km to go, we ordered two coffees and reminisced of better times.
â€œWho are you?â€ a voice asked. â€œWhat?â€ â€œCome outside, we talk.â€ When I heard these words in an eastern European accent I could only assume the day was going to get worse.
With a beer in hand he introduced himself as Robbie and told us he was a swimming instructor. He had spotted our bikes and was interested in our trip. His English was reasonable and after chatting for a little while we started to feel a little more at ease. Taking advantage of the linguistic skills on offer I asked where we might find the nearest shop but the way he scratched his head youâ€™d think I had just asked about a 5 star hotel.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you come to my house? There is no shop and I like to help travellers.â€ The movie Hostel flashed through my mind and without the hint of discussion Glen said, â€œYes.â€
It turned out to be a good call. Past the church, where Nick Walsh, a sound engineer from the Rolling Stones is buried, we found a street of very humble cottages, each unique in its design. As we pulled into No. 2 we were greeted by Robbieâ€™s wife and three children and, as if our minds had been read, we were immediately taken to the picnic table. Breads, cheeses, jams, dried meats and salads were brought out and we were left on our own to gorge.
Robbie was the only member of his family to speak English and happily took on the role as guide and translator. He showed us around his garden, the trees that had produced the fruit for the jam, his vegetable patch and, his most prized position, his â€˜smoke plantsâ€™. We retired to in his kitchen, drank beer, listened to jazz and noted our fullness while the aroma of Robbieâ€™s pot filled the room.
How the day had turned around. But whatâ€™s the catch, I here you say. Well, there was none. It turned out he had cycled from Hungary to Spain many years ago and wanted to return to us the kindness that was shown to him. We chatted about travelling and sport, had our evening meal and went into town for a drink. We pitched our tents near the orchard, ate breakfast in the morning and waved good-bye. It was just a random act of kindness.
We all find ourselves a little out of our league on occasion, I know we certainly did that morning. Perhaps we had taken on too much or were simply lost without a clue but as the famous traveller Alastair Humphreys once said, â€œThe most important lesson I ever learned was that the world is full of good people.â€
â€œI can look back with satisfaction at having persevered, and I can reflect on the lessons I learnt along the way. Lessons that will serve me well in my life; in the office, at home, with my family, as well as out in the worldâ€™s wild places. Lessons to help me try to pursue a happy, fulfilled responsible life.â€ Amen brother.
No comments yet!Sign-in to comment