So, I want to talk about two acts of kindness I experienced on my trip down the Danube with my mom. But first, I want to share the way that we brought my dad along on the trip with us. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, I associate pennies that are heads side up with my dad (complete explanations here here here and here), so we decided to leave pennies around the cities we visited to spread cheer and luck and “make someone verrrrry happy!” #penniesforNick
But as I mentioned at the start of the blog, I wanted to talk about two acts of kindness, one that was given to me, and one that we were able to perform. The first night on the boat, we settled in for 50’s and 60’s rock night in the lounge with the boat’s piano player. The first tune, while not all that meaningful to me, induced half of the audience to get up and use the dance floor. And again, if you’ve been reading this blog for the last couple years, you know that one of the things I miss most is dancing with my dad. So I teared up watching everyone. I took deep breaths, drank some water, and tried to let it go, singing along to all the songs (based on my knowledge of 50’s and 60’s lyrics, I’m actually about the same age as the majority of the passengers – who knew?). Then the piano player started “When I’m 64,” which choked me up again, because I remembered when my dad played his favorite version of it (Connie Evingson’s) and we were at the beginning of trying to find out what was wrong with him, and he had just turned 65 so the song had taken on a new meaning. But again, I fought through and got Mom to get up and dance with me to it. I was determined not to let it get the best of me. The piano player was equally determined to reduce me to a puddle bourbon-y ooze, though. He played “Yesterday,” which I had performed my first year of college for a showcase with some friends, one of whom was killed by a drunk driver the following year. But still, I held it together. Mostly. But then, oh then, he went into “See Ya Later Alligator.” Are you freaking kidding me?! It’s not like it’s that common a song that I should have expected it. I was undone by it. I ran out to the deck and hid on the stairs and sobbed. Mom came out after a minute or so to check on me and helped me breathe. Until, we heard the music inside turn to “Unforgettable,” you know, the song Natalie Cole sang with her dead father from the first jazz CD my dad ever gave me? I mean really. There was no hope at that point, so we retired to our room.
The next morning, one of the other passengers, who looked like Cameron Diaz by the way, set a notebook that said “Happy Thoughts” on the cover next to me at breakfast, gave me a quick hug, and walked off to eat. Inside, she had written a note about losses she had suffered over the years (including 3 brothers and a husband, and she was only 50) and how she looked for life’s “tender mercies,” seeking out the good that’s still in the world and recording it in a journal like the one she was giving me. Little did she know, I do the same thing. Kindred spirits. When I went out to tour the next day, I found a new blank journal and gave it to her so she wouldn’t be without one on the trip.
So that was the first act of kindness we experienced.
The second one we were able to do for someone else. At several meals, we sat with two women who were really friendly and with whom we had a fair amount in common. On the second to last night, one of them divulged to my mom that she had brought her partner’s ashes with her to scatter somewhere, but hadn’t figured out how and when to do it, and she was running out of time. Mom and I had a small balcony off of our room, so we offered it to her to use. It had rained all evening, but the rain had stopped. It was cool out and there were lightning flashes in the distance, and we were cruising down the Danube past sleepy little villages. So we vacated the room and let her take the time she needed. She seemed relieved when she emerged. I think worrying about how to do it had been weighing on her. But she was able to let that piece of her partner go and know she had fulfilled a promise. And I was grateful to her for trusting us to be, in a tiny way, a part of her journey forward on her own.
I love the phrase “life’s tender mercies” that my shipmate used in her note to me. I love those unexpected kindnesses that can pop up half way around the world. I love that being kind to a stranger is still something worth doing and something that makes you feel good, too. In all the sadness of the past year, I’m grateful that love springs forward from the most unlikely of places. And so we continue on on our own journeys, looking for the light and the lucky pennies.