There was a great story on the BBC this Christmas. It concerned the writer, Bernard Hare, who’s mother was dying in Leeds.
I got to the railway station to find I’d missed the last train. A train was going as far as Peterborough, but I would miss the connecting Leeds train by twenty minutes.
I bought a ticket home and got on anyway. I was a struggling student and didn’t have the money for a taxi the whole way, but I had a screwdriver in my pocket and my bunch of skeleton keys.
I was so desperate to get home that I planned to nick a car in Peterborough, hitch hike, steal some money, something, anything. I just knew from my dad’s tone of voice that my mother was going to die that night and I intended to get home if it killed me.
It changed for him when the guard wheedled his story out of him. He went off and came back.
He touched my arm. “Listen, when we get to Peterborough, shoot straight over to Platform One as quick as you like. The Leeds train’ll be there.”
I looked at him dumbfounded. It wasn’t really registering. “Come again,” I said, stupidly. “What do you mean? Is it late, or something?”
“No, it isn’t late,” he said, defensively, as if he really cared whether trains were late or not. “No, I’ve just radioed Peterborough. They’re going to hold the train up for you. As soon as you get on, it goes.
“Everyone will be complaining about how late it is, but let’s not worry about that on this occasion. You’ll get home and that’s the main thing. Good luck and God bless.”
The whole story is brilliant – do read the whole thing.
But a couple of things really stuck out about the story which I think we will need to start hanging on to in the coming months and years as government provides less in the way of help and more people will need to be around to help.
Firstly, the conductor saw it as his job to care for people. He didn’t hide behind a rule book or pass on by. He helped Bernard by listening to him and then doing what he could to help him in his need to see his dying mother. In other words he treated him as a human being.
We need to find ways in our daily lives and in our jobs to do the same. This encounter transformed Bernard (and the conductor probably never knew how much he had done for this angry young man).
I have written before about bureaucracy and how much more difficult it has got. How more and more are hiding behind it and fearful of it.
Secondly, we should never forget that rules are there to assist people and help them and not purely to stop people. This story saw a man reach out to help where the rule book didn’t go. The conductor saw a human being in front of him and in compassion helped him.
The coming few years will either make people harsher and more selfish or it will allow us to discover and become more caring and helpful. I do pray that it is the latter.