Ik zat vandaag op de trein. Lekker warm. Want buiten was het één van de koudste dagen van deze winter. Temperaturen onder nul. We glijden voorbij de achterzijden van de eerste Brusselse huizen. Eens Brussel binnengekomen zie ik iets vreemds. Een waslijn met een horde aan gekleurde t-shirts. Gek, denk ik, om bij deze temperaturen je was te drogen te hangen. Elke t-shirt wordt een statisch en stijve vlag in de wind die weigert te wapperen. Dan zie ik het. Een vierkanten constructie. Een bijeenraapsel van dozen en plastiek. Vier muren en een dak.
Nu weet ik waarom. Wanneer er niet genoeg binnen aan een huis is moet het buiten. De was buiten. De koude binnen. De deur altijd open. Was het buiten maar warm en binnen koud. De wereld binnenstebuiten gekeerd als een warme trui met fleece binnenin. Dan was er plaats genoeg, en iedereen in de huislijke warmte, altijd en overal.
Last Friday, I found myself on the train back home from Ghent, a train ride that I’ve been enduring for the past four years. It marks the start of my weekend and it’s usually time I spend reading. Anyways, I was on the train when the railway guard came to check our tickets. I’d filled mine out hours before hopping on the train, but had somehow mistakenly filled out the wrong line of my 10 rides pass. I filled out the correct line quickly. The guard saw me scribbling away and assumed the worst: there was no ‘Hello’ or ‘Good day’, I handed over my ticket when he told me off for not filling it out before getting on the train. I tried to explain what went wrong, but he rudely and loudly repeated his remark without letting me finish my explanation. Ugh, to assume the worst meant that I was labeled the fare dodging student. Knowing myself and knowing that I am anything but that, I was frustrated.
Needless to say, I’d lost almost all faith that I would ever meet a friendly conductor, when a few hours back today I found myself on the train to Ghent again. I was stressed, had just had a good cry over my thesis writing and not having enough time to study for exams (A whole lot of complaining in this blog post is what you’re probably thinking, but I’m getting to the good stuff soon, promise!). In other words, I was having a shitty evening. I was reading yet another text about the transformations from Old to Middle English when the railway guard came in to check our tickets. Not to assume the worst myself, I handed over my correctly filled out train pass to the grey-haired man with a slight smile, almost too scared to expose all of my sincere kindness. He smiled back broadly. He accepted my train pass as if it was a gift. I was pleasantly surprised, of course. But things got better. He stopped to ask me what I was studying and what master I was doing at uni. He told me I looked like a diligent student. Things got even better. He looked me in the eyes, put up both of his thumbs and told me he would be “ready” all through the exams and right before he turned around he wished me “Good Luck”. How did he know I was having a bad day? Could he read minds? Was he a wizard? (Or have I been watching too many Game of Thrones episodes?) In any case, to me he was a godsent gift.
Truth is, he probably didn’t know I was having a bad day. He had no idea how stressed I was, or what is going on in my life for that matter. But he stopped to ask and took what was a mere minute of his time and utterly brightened up my grey evening (literally: it is raining cats and dogs as I write this), probably without even realising it. What I’m trying to say is: a small, tiny even, gesture of kindness goes a very long way. And sometimes it goes all the way to Ghent with you, on a train.
If everyone was just a little bit more like you, Mr. Conductor, the world would be a sunnier place. Thank you for reminding me of the power of a friendly gesture.