The people who still think of us

Once, at Christmas, I saw a lady crying, in a toy shop.

It was one the saddest things I’d ever seen.

I was Christmas shopping with Balthazar, and we went into a big toy shop, to buy presents for our nieces and nephews. It was busy and there were Christmas carols playing. There was a fun atmosphere, with lots of excited children.

And then I saw a lady standing near me, looking at some toys, crying. It wasn’t just a couple of stray tears either – she was properly sobbing.

I quickly looked away, as I had an impulse to give her privacy, or maybe I just felt awkward.

I turned to Balthazar and whispered, “There’s a lady crying! Actually I’m going to see if she’s OK…”

I turned back to her, to see if she wanted some tissues or a hug, or just to offer a sympathetic smile, but she’d gone.

I had a quick look around, but she’d vanished from the store.

I wonder what made her cry in the toy shop. I guessed maybe she had lost a child or couldn’t have them.

Maybe she was missing a parent who had died and saw a toy that reminded her of them.

Or maybe it was something unrelated to children or toys.

Maybe she was on her lunch break and her boss was a bully.

Maybe she just had PMT.

I don’t know why, but I still think about her sometimes. It must’ve been 2010 when that happened, but every few months, she pops into my head.

I think it was the incongruity of the toy shop that made her sadness stand out. Seeing someone cry in a place associated with distress or drama, like a hospital, is one thing. Even seeing someone cry somewhere neutral, like a bus stop, seems less jarring. But seeing someone cry in a Christmassy toy shop just felt so heartbreaking.

(A bit like when my friend saw a kitten getting run over by an ice-cream van. It was playing the tune and everything.)

Whenever I walked past that toy shop, or thought about that day, the lady would fleetingly come into my mind, and I’d wonder how she is now, or what happened.

Then, after Balthazar died, I thought about her because I was her. When my world had collapsed but everybody else’s carried on turning, I felt like I was the lady crying, and the world was a fucking incongruous toy shop.

Now I think I just think of her out of habit. I think about her because I’ve thought about her before. More than eight years have gone past now. I hope things are better and her life is good. I hope toy shops don’t make her sad anymore.

I’ve been thinking recently about how sometimes, we think about people over and over, and they have absolutely no idea.

They would never imagine someone is regularly thinking of them.

A few weeks ago, I had to drive somewhere for work, halfway through the day. It’s rare, but I love getting paid to sit in my car and listen to tunes. I was listening to Radio One, and there was a segment where people request a song that means a lot to them, and they explain the story.

That day, a girl requested a song that helped her through a hard time with a long term health condition. It struck a chord with me, because one of my closest friends has the same condition – Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a genetic, connective tissue condition, causing a wide range of severe symptoms.

The girl on the radio started having to use a wheelchair sometimes, because of her condition. She said she listened to this particular song a lot, during this difficult time, because it’s about changing as a person. It helped her accept that what she was able to do had changed. The song was Younger Now by Miley Cyrus.

I wasn’t expecting to find a Miley Cyrus song so moving, but after they played it on the radio, they read out lots of texts that people had sent, in response to her story. A plasterer texted in saying, “she sounds great and so brave,” and it made me well up.

I downloaded the song and now, every time I hear it, I think of that girl and also of my friend.

That girl, who I’ve never met, who doesn’t know who I am, has absolutely no idea I’m thinking of her, every time her song comes on my Spotify.

A few months ago, I was on a train, and I realised two deaf people were breaking up. They must’ve been not completely deaf but had that slightly different way of speaking that people have if they’ve been deaf from birth.

They were sitting behind me so I couldn’t see them. I was listening to the Archers on my phone. Initially, I overheard a loudish conversation and just turned up the Archers.

Then, I realised something juicy might be happening, so I turned it back down.

The guy of the couple was saying, “I wanted to make it work, I did!”

They were both crying but the guy was crying more, even though I got the impression he was instigating the breakup. It sounded like one of them, maybe the girl, had left to go to University.

(God I’m so nosy.)

When I got off the train, I passed them and gave them a packet of tissues.

I didn’t want to make them feel self-conscious but I know when I’ve cried on trains, I would’ve really appreciated a fleeting glimmer of kindness or encouragement from a stranger.

And more often than not, I genuinely need a tissue. Often I’m trying to eke out an old, half-used one I’ve found in a pocket, from last winter.

The guy said, “Thank you so much.”

I think of them sometimes, when I’m on that train route.

Strangers I’ve been kind to, or wanted to be kind to, stand out in my mind.

But I think people remember strangers who gave them kindness even more.

I recently saw a thread on Twitter that was utterly heart-warming and made me cry over my lunch at my desk.

If you ever need cheering up, look at this thread on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nicole_cliffe/status/1102646743659773953?lang=en

Someone tweeted “What is the kindest thing a stranger has done or said to you?”. There were 13,000 replies.

There are stories about people helping strangers with sick babies on flights, an army veteran giving up his place on a flight so an army wife could see her husband at Christmas, when most of the flights were cancelled due to bad weather. There’s a Muslim taxi driver who drove a parent to a hospital to see their critically ill baby, who said “I’ll pray for you at the Mosque tomorrow!”

There’s a lady who got talked out of jumping in front of a train, by a stranger, after having a stillbirth. Now she’s a grandparent.

The story that got me the most, was about a guy who ran an LGBT bookshop. One night, someone phoned up saying they were considering harming themselves, because of their sexuality. The manager of shop wasn’t sure what to do, but tried to keep him on the phone. After speaking to him for a while, a women tapped him on the shoulder and asked to have a turn speaking to the stranger on the phone.

“And a LINE FORMS BEHIND HER. Every customer in that store knows that call, knows that feeling, and every person takes a turn talking to that man. That story comforts me so much to this day.”

(The person who wrote the tweet has changed their privacy settings, so you can’t see it anymore, but there is a story about it here.)

So, sometimes we remember strangers who needed help, or who helped us. Or remember strangers whose stories struck a chord with our own lives.

Every July, around this time, I remember a girl called Amy, who went to my school. She was in the year above me. I mainly knew her because we were both musical. We were in some of the same school concerts. She was a really good singer and I played guitar and sang.

She was also absolutely gorgeous, really clever and incredibly sweet. She was the sort of person who almost made you feel jealous, because she was so good at everything, except she was so likeable, you just wanted to bask in her presence instead.

After we left school, we both worked in the same nursing home as care assistants, for one summer.

Her younger brother also went out with my friend Tess, for a few years.

I knew she went on to study English at university, and did very well, but I lost touch and didn’t realise she’d become a successful journalist at the Sunday Times.

Then, in 2012, she committed suicide, at the age of 29.

I remember chatting to a guy from our school on Facebook, who was devastated. He’d been at primary school with her, and he remembered how she helped him with writing when he was struggling, when they were tiny.

I went to the funeral, and met a lovely girl who studied journalism with Amy. She said she really struggled with shorthand, and Amy went out of her way to help her with it.

When I started working that nursing home, at first I found the role a bit overwhelming, but she helped me settle in.

There was a beautiful obituary written about her in the Sunday Times, and lots of famous journalists wrote about how she helped them.

She probably couldn’t possibly imagine the amount of people, years later, who still think of her often, who were reached by the ripples of her death. People who still remember how she helped them.

There are lots of people who cross my mind often.

It’s strange to think that, by the law of averages, one or two people out there might think about me, without me knowing.

I have cried on a lot of trains myself (actually, I’ve cried on all modes of transport).

If nothing else, I guess there are people I don’t know, who read this blog.

I find it quite warm and comforting.

Sometimes it’s obvious who has affected us. Other times it’s not so clear at all.

Do you have any strangers you still think about today?

Who do you think still thinks of you?

11 thoughts on “The people who still think of us

  1. This is so overwhelming it made me cry 😢 indeed, strangers acts of kindness remind us that despite the bad things happening in the world, there’s still good. Hate will never win! Thank you so much for sharing this post with us ❤🌹

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes a very moving post Dater, one that really made me think about how we can get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget everyone has their own struggles. That young woman’s suicide is so sad. People are full of the most incredible stories – it really is what connects us I think. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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