Members of one whole
The January issue of Adventurous Ink, our monthly subscription for the best in modern outdoor literature, features the book 'Kindness of Strangers'.
The stories between it's pages, from a litany of inspiring adventure writers including Al Humphreys, Levison Wood, Anna McNuff, Easkey Britton, Leon McCarron, Tim Moss, Louis Pryce and many others, demonstrate that a generous spirit can be found right around the world. A heart warming thought in these modern times when the prevailing political rhetoric serves only to divide countries and cultures.
Edited and curated by Britain's coolest Geography teacher, Fearghal O`Nuallain, it's a refreshing read that provides comfort and security through the knowledge that strangers often prove to be their most helpful, when you are at your most vulnerable.
All proceeds from sales of the book go to Oxfam, to support their work with migrants and refugees, perhaps the greatest strangers in need of kindness.
Fearghal himself provides us with an introduction here, an encounter from his cycle ride westward in a bid to prove the world is round (it is).
Iran, on the outskirts of Tabriz, a cold evening in early December 2009.
‘Follow me,’ said the man with the frown. ‘Is too cold for outside tonight.’
Without a thought I was chasing the dim red tail lights of a Peugeot 306 along a dark country road on my bike. The man was dressed in a fancy suit and must have been on his way to an important gathering. A small boy, also dressed in a shiny suit, had pointed from the passenger’s seat as I studied my map by the light of the petrol station. It was below freezing and I had really hoped I wouldn’t have to camp in my twoseason sleeping bag.
I followed the car for almost an hour, him stopping every few minutes for me to catch up, then driving off with a belch of smoke and a rattling exhaust. Eventually we arrived at an empty warehouse. The man lit the stove, and the boy fetched water for tea and made a bed in the guard house. Then they disappeared in a hurry. The man returned later with kebabs, water, biscuits and a crisp 100,000 rial note.
‘Khomeini… for luck…’ he said with a wink before patting my shoulder and disappearing into the night. I warmed my hands and dried my wet clothes on the stove and admired the note. It had an imposing picture of Ayatollah Khomeini on the front and something written in elegant Farsi penmanship. On the reversewas a sketch of an impressive mausoleum backed by fir trees.
Next to it I was surprised to find a line written in English:
‘Human beings are members of a whole. In creation of one essence and soul.’
As I drifted to sleep next to the warm stove I chewed on the sentiment in my head like a toffee; one essence and soul… members of a whole…
The fire had gone out when I awoke shivering at dawn. I packed hastily and rolled my bike out onto the quiet icy road. The man hadn’t told me his name, he had just given me a hot meal and somewhere warm to sleep.
A few months ago I found the note tucked into a journal. I googled the quote. It was from a poem by Saadi, an Iranian poet who lived in the thirteenth century. It was from his masterpiece, ‘Gulistan’, or ‘The Rose Garden’, Wikipedia told me. Gulistan is ‘poetry of ideas with mathematical concision’, it said, possibly the most influential piece of Persian literature ever written. I read on and came across the following lines:
If one member is afflicted with pain,
other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
the name of human you cannot retain.
That’s the essence of The Kindness of Strangers. This is a book for humans – for people who cannot sit easily when others are afflicted. People who recognise that irrespective of the colour of our passport, the language we speak or the god we pray to, we are members of something bigger than our immediate tribe.
They say that travel broadens the mind, but travel also opens the heart. It’s impossible to experience the world and not come home with greater empathy and concern for it. These are stories told by people who have undertaken amazing journeys and achieved impressive feats, but the tales in these pages are not of their achievements; they are stories of the charity they received, grateful elegies to the simple acts of the kindness that made their journeys possible. Our brave adventurers were aided on their quests by kind strangers who were uneasy seeing others in distress and discomfort.
This is a book for people with heart; people who recognise that kindness is the human trait that connects us with the rest of the world, and understand that it transcends the sometimes nasty narratives of history and politics. The stories in this book show that its force is strong in all corners of the world, and that it can be called upon in jungles, deserts, mountains, slums and the green fields of England. This book is an antidote to the darkness and ignorance of our times. It is a book for those of an open mind and heart, and an adventurous spirit.
This book echoes the words written 700 years ago by an Iranian poet and printed today on the back of 100,000 rial notes. Words that we should not forget.
Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul.