We popped up the 3 quick steps onto the city train. Zip zip zip. Bodies that move with ease. I grabbed the handle above my head for support and glanced out the window, eager to catch a glimpse of Gothenburg in the daylight. A couple weeks ago, I traveled with my friend, Nadia, to Sweden. One of our hosts, Daniel, came to get us at our hotel and escort us to the next place were were supposed to be that day. I glanced back to watch the other passengers board this little train.
Just behind us, an elderly gentleman with a walker tried to get in the door. The walker had a basket attached which made it too wide to easily lift up the steps. Plus, the man was quite unsteady on his feet. Without hesitating, another man jumped out of his seat to assist the elderly man. It became quickly apparent that one person wasn't enough. So the first helper called to two of us to take the walker while he encircled the elder from behind and supported him with his own body to assist him up the steps. Then it took some convincing to get the elder to sit while others tended his walker/basket. Within minutes, we were at our stop, which happened to be the elder's stop, too. So the whole thing was reversed down the steps.
It all happened quickly-without hesitation. The first helper is definitely in an indie band-or perhaps just an average Swedish citizen-it's hard to tell around those parts. Beyond appearance, what we glimpsed in the short interaction was a well spring of kindness. I thought, "That guy had good parents." Maybe or maybe not. What I know is that beyond the elder getting on and off the train safely-the kindness he showed changed me, too.
I keep thinking about the this trip to Sweden. It was absolutely transformative-because I got to see new things, meet new people, spend time with Nadia, have a break from election coverage, be surrounded by beauty. All of those things are definitely true. But as I look back through the week, I now see an undercurrent of kind people. At every turn. In every interaction. It was the prevailing tone.
Kindness changes people. It arrives like grace-often unexpected, unannounced. It creates something new in us. Softens our edges. It isn't niceness or pretending or being polite. It's something else entirely. I'm taking this experience into the coming season. Because Lord, have mercy--the cultural climate is hostile. It feels like we are turning on one another. I want something else. I want to be the person who jumps up to support the person who needs it.