Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

For the well-travelled amongst you, you might be able to recognise that this picture is from London. You might be able to tell from the phone boxes in the distance... Only these ones are not the usual red ones! These two phone boxes in London's City district, have been painted green to celebrate 60 years of the Samaritans in the UK. And today, I too met a good Samaritan...

I flew into London late last night, for work. After we had boarded the plane, on time, the captain came on to tell us about the journey ahead. Apparently, due to the high winds and impending storm hitting the UK, our flight would be delayed. For safety reasons the flow into Heathrow slows down in extreme conditions, he continued, and so we would get a later slot. He also warned us that the 40 mph winds currently blowing in from the Atlantic would make the flight and especially the landing "a bit bumpy". 

I have to say that I am not usually scared of flying - I have been a regular flyer for many years. I have been flying less since moving to Greece, but still manage three of four return journeys a year. I have never, however, had a bad flying experience - nothing remarkable anyway. Plus, ever since meeting D and more so now that we are ready to adopt, I have been much more scared about my personal safety. So, understandably perhaps, I felt a little uncomfortable. 

The man sitting next to me, an American living in London, made a comment about the news the pilot had just delivered and we got chatting. I confessed my nervousness for the coming flight. Very quickly, in a very mild but firm manner, he explained to me that he is a small-aircraft pilot and that, really, I had very little to worry about. He went on to explain, in quite simply language luckily, all about avionics and landing procedures. (He also suggested that I had some wine with my dinner; advice a duly followed!)

The flight was fairly uneventful, with some mild turbulance on the way into Heathrow. It did takes us a while to get a landing slot, but, despite the pilot's warning the waiting and circling around time (I am sure there is a term for this...) was reasonable. And then it came to landing!

It was windy - we could feel it from the dipping and diving once we started out descent into Heathrow. We had been warned and I had had the glass of wine as prescribed, but I was still very nervous. 

The guy next to me, a total stranger, was simply wonderful! He coached me through the whole landing, explaining why we were accelerating, what the wing flaps were doing (yes, I was seated right by the wing) and what each noise and dip meant. He told me things before they happened (like "we will accelerate now") which was very reassuring, because it meant it was normal! He coached me through it like an expert, and I felt safe in knowing that it was not that strange a situation: that aircrafts land in horrid weather all the time. As we bounced around the landing tarmac I was happy to be on terra firma. 

After we landed there was a clap. I thanked him for his help. He smiled. 

There is something very powerful about the kindness of strangers. Something great about someone who hardly knows you taking the time to tell you that it will be OK. Something deeply human and deeply humane. We get glimpses of the possibilities of the human spirit at times like this. 

And so with a little help from my good Samaritan, I made it to London safely. 

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