We have no idea how acts of love and kindness can have a ripple effect, many years after the figurative pebble has been dropped into the proverbial pond.
In 2008 I returned to the City of Canterbury to begin my tenure at the well known family run Funeral Directors, C. W. Lyons & Son Ltd. Starting as a floor sweeper and tea boy, I learnt the profession from the ground up and as time passed, gained the necessary qualifications to be co-opted into the office when other staff members were on holiday, to arrange funerals in their absence.
After a few years and with the retirement of two of the senior office staff members, I moved permanently into a funeral directors role and in 2018 was awarded Company Directorship.
During my time with the Company, along with my other duties, I personally arranged, conducted and cared for many local families, arranging a total of about 1,200 funerals.
When conducting funerals at city centre churches or Canterbury Cathedral, I was well known amongst the company funeral directors to be the one to page the furthest through the busy City streets, crossing roundabouts and dual carriageways and generally delaying the traffic for a few minutes. However, my attention was always focussed on what I was involved in and not the individual people who happened to be lining the streets, even though many of those people there would undoubtedly know or recognise me.
Canterbury, in the UK, is now a University City but when as a young man of fifteen I left school and set out to earn a crust, Canterbury only had a city population of around 26,000 inhabitants. Forty years later and with multiple universities and colleges being drawn to the location, the resident population number has risen to somewhere in the region of 60,000 with an influx of a further 40,000 students during term time.
Whereas in 1980 you could walk the length and breadth between the city walls in 10 minutes, acknowledging friends and acquaintances with gay abandon, now in 2021, people I probably should know and recognise, have on more than one occasion, come up to me and remarked on how lovely it is to see me “after all this time”, only to have me at an obviously visible disadvantage. Whether this is my own senility or just the ravages of time I know not!
Charlotte and I unusually decided one evening to stop in the city where we both worked and, instead of going straight home after the working day, we would make use of one of the many eateries within those historic walls.
It was a warm and still summer evening where, throughout the day, the heat from the sun had been garnered and absorbed into the stonework of all the surrounding buildings and was now being gently released back into the community. Kitchen staff and chefs in a multitude of restaurants went about busily preparing food for those in search of sustenance after a hard day at the coalface and redolent aromas wafted enticingly through the ancient cobbled streets.
The evening was positively balmy and not having first gone home to change, we were both still dressed in our work clothes. Charlotte in her office attire and me in my funeral director’s suit. Not quite the top hat and tails in my case, but still in my formal black jacket and striped trousers. You couldn’t miss us. In restaurants predominantly full of students, we stood out dramatically.
Finding a table at a little restaurant towards the Westgate Towers, we ordered drinks while deliberating on what we would have to eat.
The attending waitress, encompassingly waving in the vague direction of everyone else who was eating in the restaurant, announced that our drinks had been bought by another diner. We turned to acknowledge the generous benefactor but, from the gathered throng, there were so many smiling faces, neither Charlotte nor I were able to pinpoint who the donor of our drinks was.
We smiled in the general direction of everyone who seemed to be taking notice and raised our glasses in a gesture of grateful thanks and returned to our perusal of the menus.
Whether it was someone we knew from the past or present, or someone Charlotte or I had helped through our professional lives, or ‘none of the above’, neither of us knew.
Fifty years ago, on a family summer holiday in Devon, I watched with strange fascination as my late departed father paid for a homeless street dweller to have a meal at a café where we were having breakfast, seemingly for no other reason than he wanted to do it. No fanfare, no adulatory crowds, no gratuitous self praise, just an act of kindness, paying it forward from one human being to another.
Randomly buying someone a drink or a meal has been around forever. Paying it forward isn’t a new idea. Just as my father had bought food for a chap 50 years ago, buying a drink for Charlotte and me was an act of kindness and love and it has left its mark on us as a wonderful example of what people can do to make someone else happy.
If you are that person and reading this today and know that it was you who bought our drinks, thank you. It was a deeply moving experience, reminding me of that breakfast café and my father’s actions.
It is in little acts of kindness, that we can show love to those around us; with the firmly held beliefs of doing to others as you would wish them do to you, and that charity blesses him who gives as well as he who receives. I know that many of us have reciprocated such gestures in like fashion and I know it won’t be another 50 years before we are doing the same again…
Pay it forward lovely people, drop the pebble into that pond, keep those ripples of loving kindness spreading to others, carrying it on, regardless!