A dodgy book isn’t the ideal birthday present, but Alex Court found out that sometimes it’s a source of inspiration
My birthday is not an occasion I celebrate with much gusto. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s because my parents brought me up badly. Who knows? I don’t like my birthday, and I don’t have to justify why.
I don’t grab my gifts with elation. The wrapping paper often hides pleasant objects, but opening them ceremoniously makes me feel uncomfortably scrutinised. “Its only ‘cos they love me,” I’m constantly reminded.
Like so many, there’s always one particular present I have to fake my surprise/joy/gratitude with. This year it was a book with a black-grey cover. About as enticing as an empty, window-less room painted sludgy brown. The Kindness of Strangers was the title my eyes read as my cheeks stung with a fake smile. After everybody had gone back to ignoring me (thank God!) I peeked inside the covers.
Turns out, the plain paper and ink could be the best thing that has ever happened to me. That’s perhaps an exaggeration, but only just. The 26 lively, interesting, fun stories are refreshing and revitalising. I rationed myself one story a night; resisting gluttony to eek out this happiness for as long as possible.
Each story, with settings ranging from Uganda to Russia to Algeria, simply explains one situation one person was in. The central character is vulnerable, alone and isolated, before one person helps them. It is special simplicity.
A possible favourite is set on a small Hawaiian island. The character is driving his rented car when disaster strikes and the reader’s stress levels peak. As you start thinking this story was meant for a horror anthology, he is saved – not by a friend or relative, but by someone who’s never met him before.
The book’s angelic lifesavers are the inspiration, as they have the purest intentions. They aren’t looking for praise or thanks; they simply see someone in need of a helping hand and they give freely.
It’s a beautiful message to remind yourself of in these days of banking probes and global warming – people help one another in unexpected ways every day. It also works well within a busy schedule: read a story on the bus to college, on a lazy Sunday, before you go to bed, or if you need a college break. Flexible yet enduring, it is excellent all round.
Entering the soft sumptuous garden of the book for the first time, I encountered the slightly spiky sentence, “I believe in Kindness, rather as religious people believe in God.” Cringe and crap, I thought. By then end of the book, I understood what was meant, and couldn’t agree more. Maybe my next birthday will be better, but I really doubt it.
The Kindness of Strangers is written by Katrina Kittle.