81: Restored Faith

81: Restored Faith

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

Restored Faith

Wherever we travel to, the wonderful people we meet become our family.

~Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!

Returning from a family holiday to England, we had a twenty-hour layover in Paris. Determined to make the most of our short stay, we decided to see the Eiffel Tower. Armed with only a map and a few phrases of high school French, we left the airport by train, heading to our first stop, Notre Dame.

We were to switch to a different line of the Metro once we reached the cathedral stop, but instead, we exited through the turnstiles. Once we realized that we made a mistake and that we would have to pay again to get back on the subway, we decided to find our way above ground. Standing in a huddle, we opened our map to figure out where we needed to go.

“Excuse me, but do you require assistance?” I turned to see a fashionably dressed man, perhaps in his mid-forties. His English was excellent but spoken with the most exquisite French accent I’d ever heard.

I answered for the family. “Well, we were trying to take the train to the Eiffel Tower but we left the station by accident.

“Oh, it is no problem. If you like, I can show you the way.”

We eagerly accepted his gracious offer, anticipating that he would lead us to the top of the stairs and then simply point us in the correct direction. Wrong.

When we reached the street above, our guide, who introduced himself simply as Thierry, said, “Come, it is this way.”

I looked at my husband and my daughter and shrugged. They shrugged back. Surprised, but grateful, I said, “Thank you,” and we introduced ourselves. I asked, “Are you sure you have the time to do this? You don’t have any other commitments?”

He responded, “Oh, no. I have the afternoon free. It is a beautiful day and it would be my pleasure to show you my city.”

Thierry crossed the street and we followed along like ducklings. We walked down alleyways sprinkled with adorable cafés, by patisseries, whose luscious pastries sent the smells of heaven wafting through the air, and into cathedrals and courtyards that were so far off the beaten track we would never have otherwise found them. In one such church, Thierry told us. “There are more kings and queens buried here than in all of Notre Dame. But Notre Dame has Napoléon and therefore the fame and the money. Also, all the tourists.”

The entire time we walked, our impromptu guide gave us the history of his beautiful city. It was a spectacular day in Paris. The sun was shining, the sky a saturated cerulean. The sights and sounds and scents of that day are indelibly etched in all of our memories.

In total, Thierry spent three hours walking with us through the streets of Paris. We found out he was married with two girls, one in her second year of medical school, and the other still in high school. He was a businessman but also a published author.

When we reached the tower, he said, “Well, I must leave you now. I hope that you will return to our city when you have more time. There is much to see here in Paris.”

We thanked him profusely but he brushed aside our gratitude, saying only, “It was my pleasure. It is good for the universe to give back.”

After a picture, hugs, and kisses on both cheeks for all of us, this gracious stranger walked out of our lives — but never out of our memories.

I truly thought this was to be a once in a lifetime experience, but this May I was proven wrong.

We were headed to Halifax to visit my husband’s family, in particular his ailing mother who was dying of cancer. We wanted our girls to have one last visit with their nana.

My older daughter, Sarah, had ankle surgery two weeks prior to our flight. She was unable to bear weight and required crutches.

I booked a seat with extra legroom for Sarah so that she could keep her foot up during the flight. On the flight to Halifax we were all sitting close enough together for me to help her with her crutches, and to provide assistance as needed. Our return flight, however, proved to be more challenging.

Sarah was sitting at the front of the plane, in the premium seats. The rest of us were in the back of the plane, in the squished seats. I boarded early, with Sarah, to help her store her crutches and get settled. I struggled to stuff the crutches into the overhead bin, but they were too long. A voice spoke from my right. I turned to see a man, possibly in his mid-forties, who said, “Here, let me help you. There is more room back here.”

He took the crutches from me and easily stored them away. I offered my thanks and turned to Sarah. “Okay, sweetie. You should be fine. I’ll come back and check on you once we’re underway.”

The gracious stranger asked, “Oh, where are you sitting?”

I pointed to the back of the plane. Laughing, I said, “Oh, way back there, in the bowels of the plane.”

“What is your seat number?”

Curious as to why he wanted to know, I said, “56B.”

He smiled and stood to pull his briefcase from the overhead bin. “Fine. I will sit there and you take my seat so you can help your girl.”

I tried to refuse. After all, he had paid extra for his lovely, roomy seat, but he refused to take no for an answer. “Please, I insist. It would be my pleasure.”

Somewhat bemused, I watched him walk to the back of the plane where he would sit next to my husband. I wondered how we could be so fortunate as to meet another incredibly kind and gracious stranger.

He wasn’t finished with us yet, though.

We landed in Montreal only to discover our flight to Vancouver was delayed by an hour. During the trip to Montreal, my husband and our kind stranger had chatted. He was a businessman who lived in North Vancouver and would be on the same flight as us. As we exited the plane, he said, “It seems we are stuck here for a while. If you like, I would be honored to have you as my guests in the Air Canada lounge.” None of us had ever been in the lounge before.

Concerned, I asked, “Are you sure that’s allowed?”

He replied, “Please, don’t worry. It is fine.” He led the three of us, all obviously Caucasian, to the lounge and when asked who we were, this dark-skinned man with a lovely Middle-Eastern accent replied without hesitation, “They are my family.”

It’s unlikely we will get the chance to enjoy such luxury again, but thanks to this stranger’s generosity, we certainly enjoyed the experience.

These two different men, complete strangers from two different continents, have restored my faith in the innate goodness of humanity.

~Leslie Anne Wibberley

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