I was on the train for the first time in ages, hurrying to a meeting I really couldn’t miss. Wearing a mask, keeping my distance from strangers and – if I’m honest – more than a bit fearful of running into crowds.
I only had a few minutes to change trains but my belly was rumbling because I hadn’t had time for breakfast, so I risked dashing into the platform cafe for a coffee and a sandwich. And a bun. I like buns.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as the carriages rolled in until the cafe worker came running after me shouting: “Come back! Come back!”
The machine had not taken my payment and the screen went blank again as I stood in the cafe getting really anxious. Outside, I could see people boarding the train. “I’ve got to go,” I said, ready to run. What would you have done?
Then a voice came from behind. “I’ll get this,” said a lady in a mask, with kind eyes, who had seen my panic.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Catch your train.”
So I did. I ran. And I sat on it stunned at what had just happened, wondering if she’d realised it would be eight quid. Buns don’t come cheap on the railways.
Jesus tells his friends that whenever they feed someone who is hungry, give a drink to someone who is thirsty or welcome a stranger, it’s as if they’re doing it to him.
So many cultures, religions and traditions call us to be open and helpful to what my kids call randoms. But it comes as a complete shock when it happens to you and you can’t see their faces and you’re hurrying through a world of warnings.
Then I realised something really embarrassing: this was the wrong train. They’d slipped a late runner in before mine, one of many going to a popular destination. She must have thought: “He’s just done a bunk!” So I hid behind a pillar at the next station as I waited to change again, in case she came by.
But even as I did, her generosity cracked me open. I have to admit there were tears. She had liberated me for a moment, allowing love to break through all my fear and worry, just by doing something unexpectedly, randomly and gloriously kind.
PS That photograph of a woman in a mask isn’t the woman in the mask at the station, there was no time for that (and it would have been a bit weird anyway), so it’s just a photograph of a woman in a mask.