My 17-year-old son was standing on a grass verge about five miles outside Killybegs recently, wondering if he had missed the bus into Donegal town. The weather was kind and he was accompanied on the grassy hillock that sunny morning by a grubby sleeping bag and a mate of his.
The two of them had spent a brief vacation with friends in a borrowed house nearby. My son had left Dublin a couple of days earlier with pasta and toothpaste (you should try it some time), various cans, some of which were soup, and every intention of having a good time. He also carried €150 in his wallet, the last of the money he had earned from a couple of weeks of summer labouring.
My son and his friend were a little knackered from their 48 hours of socialising and were possibly not in the best state for a last-minute chase for the bus. So they were suitably grateful when a grey Mercedes pulled up and offered them a lift.
The couple in the car were from the area and the talk was about football and local sporting heroes. Thanks to their kindly intervention, the boys made it on to the Dublin bus.
However, as they were boarding, my son phoned me. He sounded low.“I’ve lost my wallet,” he said. “Everything.”
“Where?” I asked, and he told me about the lift in the grey Merc and how he’d had his wallet in his hand and how he must have left it on the back seat.
“I worked for that money,” he said mournfully.
I rang the postmistress in Killybegs, who couldn’t have been more helpful. “Just in case someone hands it in,” I asked, “could you take my phone number?”
I rang the Garda station at Ballyshannon. (“You did what?” asked my mortified son later.) The policeman was kind. I apologised for wasting his time. He took my number too.
It had been a funny old week: bits of bad news had been stalking us, illness was in the air, plans were being remade. Even the white goods were revolting – and it wasn’t just the dried-in ketchup stains.
“Damn wallet,” I thought, staring at the malfunctioning washing machine, which was predictably out of guarantee. Why, I wondered, do the inconsequential things always start delivering their nicks and jabs when deeper wounds are threatening?
I don’t know if you’ve heard about “random acts of kindness”. Raks (yes, they have an acronym) are being reported, particularly from the US, as a cohort of smiley people attempts to spread bonhomie by such acts as taping dollar bills to vending machines, some with Post-It notes attached. (“Have a Coke on me,” the mystery benefactors implore.)
Other Rakophiles display their magnanimity by paying the toll for the next car in line or by targeting lonely-looking strangers in restaurants or diners and quietly settling their bills while the unsuspecting recipients stare into the middle distance, pondering their leaking freezers or their perennially chilly mothers, with their cheesy blimps suspended in front of their quivering lips (Christ, you’d kick yourself for not ordering the lobster frittata).
Recently the actor Amy Adams upped the Rak ante by forfeiting her first-class airline seat to a young soldier queuing for the same flight. Other Rak enthusiasts have begun mailing asinine letters to complete strangers, exhorting them to “be the person you know you can be”. (Personally, I’d be the me who tracks down the sender and inserts their missive where the sun don’t shine.)
There are websites designed to help you stock your largesse larder. Suggestions include leaving your “sweet spot” (I think this translates as “handy parking space”) for “a pregnant lady”. Holy cow, what a nightmare. What if the “lady” in question isn’t actually pregnant? What if she’s just got a lot of twinkies inside her? She’s not going to thank you for that, mate.
Anyway, Raks aren’t a patch on the old-fashioned act of kindness and decency that benefited my son last week. While he was on the Donegal-Dublin bus, the couple in the Mercedes, having found his wallet, returned to the spot where they had picked him up and asked around until they found the house the kids were staying in. They then gave the wallet and its contents to another young friend who hadn’t yet left.
My son couldn’t believe his luck, and I was uplifted by a generosity of spirit that doesn’t need a website to ignite it. Whoever you are, Mr and Mrs Grey Car, thank you. Sincerely. Your kindness is inspiring.
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