Thursday, September 5, 2013

Is there an extra couch for the night?

This morning, while we were driving up to my native village on a very brisk zigzag country road, I saw a middle-aged woman standing on the side of the road waving. She was hitchhiking. My husband, who was driving our car, kept going while I urged him to stop and give the woman a ride. He argued that the car was full with five people in it, and we didn’t know the lady. My answer was if I put one of the kids on my lap there would be space for her. Furthermore, I had no problem with the idea of offering a ride to a total stranger.
“The best portion of a good man's life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” ―William Wordsworth
This little episode triggered another story from my past. I was born and raised in a two-bedroom flat in a suburb of Beirut. Although our flat could barely accommodate seven people—in addition to mum and dad I have two brothers and two sisters—we managed to squeeze in with no complaints. There were two bedrooms and two sofa beds in the living room. Dad slept on one of them and the second was kept for any unexpected guest. In fact, this extra sofa bed was not only used by friends and relatives, but also by some guests whom we hardly knew.

The civil war in my country affected all its parts but not concurrently. The violence moved in a random fashion from one place to another, where conflicting militias, even former allies, fought each other. So sometimes, our neighborhood was slightly safer than other parts of the country and sometimes not depending on who was fighting whom. During what might be called our off-violence periods, our neighborhood was flooded with people seeking shelter with relatives and friends. Our extra sofa bed, as you might have predicted, was used a multitude of times for that purpose.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” ―Mother Teresa

I appreciated why we offered a safe place to our relatives and friends, but I was too young to understand why we would do so to strangers. My parents explained that duty compelled us to do it because these “guests” were related to our neighbors and there were not enough sleeping spots for them in one place so they had to sleep where they could. What if we were on the run in a strange neighborhood—wouldn’t we hope somebody would take us in for the night?

One time, my sister who taught at a school 20 kilometers away from home got stuck in her school because of fighting that suddenly erupted between two formerly allied militias. When my parents ascertained how dangerous it would be to cross these newly erupted frontlines, they conferred with our neighbors to check the availability of any shelter for my sister and found her a place in the house of the relatives of one of our neighbors where she stayed a couple of days until the road re-opened and was safe for her to come back home. 

“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.” ― Iris Murdoch

The possibility of being in a situation where we might need to give a helping hand to someone we know—or don’t know—might arise at any time in our lives. Civil wars do not happen that often, nor do natural disasters, but personal conflicts and accidents could happen anytime and to anyone. So before saying no to that request for help, always keep in mind that:

  • Your son or daughter could be standing on that office door seeking help or advice from someone they hardly know.
  • There is no safe roof above any one’s head; no one is untouchable and you might need to sleep one day on someone else’s extra couch, or your car could break down in the middle of nowhere and you might need to ask a total stranger for a ride. 
  • An act of kindness is never wasted because it remains in the hearts of all involved, and spreads from one to another, creating a long chain of love.
  • Even if you have little to give, you still have the power to change someone’s life by simply offering a gracious smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a helping hand, a piece of your heart.
“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama

Picture by Hoda Maalouf
Thank you RAP for your valuable comments!