A Random Act of Kindness

A Pause for Thought about love, the joy of strangers and a random act of kindness that made me cry, written for today’s Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 which can be heard here.

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.

A random act of kindness written up for a Pause For Thought on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show at BBC Radio 2 this morning, as delivered from the wardrobe for the sake of sound (pictured)

The makeshift studio in a cupboard I use to do Pause For Thought on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2

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.

Bloody Good Friday

Doubtful reflections on a very old story

The death itself is not an unusual one. We say that it is, we tell the story of the horrors and humiliations that preceded it and dwell on the pain of the nails pressing into the flesh and the body stretched and hung and pierced as if he was suffering more – and more horribly – than anyone ever suffered, as if that was how he earned the right to wash away all the wrongs we have done. But it isn’t true, is it? Lots of people were crucified. It was a brutal, nasty, torturous death but it was also an ordinary one. Mundane. Thieves and robbers, criminals and liars, innocents and the unlucky all died that way. And there have been so many other terrible ways to die over the centuries, over human history. We’re very good at cruelty. We’re very good at killing. We do it so often. So the beauty here is not unlocked by the ugliness of the dying or the death. The miracle is not in the suffering, which is ordinary. Another man dies. Another body is broken. Another heart stops. So what?

I don’t know.

I’m writing this on Good Friday afternoon, as an act of reflection at the very moment in the story when the sky grows dark and all hope is apparently lost. That’s very familiar to us, it’s the kind of moment written into the fabric of our being and the stories we tell and have always told. The heroine is lost in the forest, the superhero is powerless and defeated. We know this bit. We know how dark and bitter it is. We weep, we too feel lost. But we also feel in our bones, in reaction to the story, that a happy ending is coming. The dawn will break, an ally will come, the battle will be won.

I’ve lived this though, with those I have loved in real life, as you may have too. Those were bitter times. There was no rescue, no third act, no resurrection for them. True, humans are stronger than we know and more inventive and some of us find a way to endure the unendurable, but not all. Some of us are beaten. So when Easter makes a promise in the saddest moment, when it tells us everything will be all right, that is sometimes so very hard to believe.

‘Take your myth, take your legend, your parable, your foolish story, your fallen king who will rise again and go and tell it to someone more gullible.’

That’s what I feel like saying.

And yet.

And yet.

There’s something deep and very, very old here and perhaps older and bigger than the faith structures people have built around it. And because it is ordinary, because it suggests the extraordinary exists beside the mundane, then somehow and against my will and common sense it speaks to me.

I don’t know what it says. I’m still listening.

What do you think?

Why I love Phoebe Dynevor

I mean, doesn’t everybody at the moment? Phoebe Dynevor is the breakout star of Bridgerton, the biggest thing on Netflix at the time of writing, but I want to tell you about something unexpected that happened while I was interviewing her for You magazine.

Continue reading “Why I love Phoebe Dynevor”

True Love

I wrote these words about true love and the divine a long, long time ago but a friend remembered and posted them this morning for Valentine’s Day, so I thought I’d share them with you to read or hear.

There is no tooth fairy.
There was no Saint Valentine,
patron saint of chocolate companies and florists,
but I don’t care.

I’ll buy a big red satin card,
embroidered with a silken rose,
stuffed with rhyme or purple prose,
and send it in the post, sealed with a kiss,
to myself.

I’ll have a candlelit dinner for one,
with white-suited waiters attending my needs,
pouring champagne into fluted glasses.
I’ll order two of their finest meals,
and eat them both.

After my binge of kitsch and caviar,
love and lurve and lovely naughties,
I’ll sleep it off for days, as candles turn to ashes,
and the season of romance becomes the sullen month of Lent.

Then, where will I find love,
as dark nights linger and cold constricts the tender buds?
There are plenty of people willing to advise.
I love the ones who ask questions,
who sit by the fire with you and a glass of whiskey and wonder.

Continue reading “True Love”

A Change Is Going To Come

Pause for Thought for the Zoe Ball breakfast show on BBC Radio 2

When my son Jacob was born, something very beautiful happened. His Mum was being taken care of by the nurses – she needed some attention after the caesarian – so they gave me the baby to hold. I looked into his face for the first time, inhaled his scent and held him close. And kept holding him, as they left me to it for a while.

I found myself alone in a side room with our boy for the first half an hour or so of his life.

Now, to be honest, I was knackered. Not as knackered as his Mum Rachel, obviously, but still. So I did what I shouldn’t really have done and laid down on the bed in there. It was just me and him, undisturbed.

I remember, vividly, the feeling of this little baby lying on my chest, sleeping. My breathing changed to match his and I felt as close to him as I have to anyone, ever.

He’s a long way from me now.

Continue reading “A Change Is Going To Come”