Sitting on a curb crying, I looked up when a man tapped me on the shoulder asking if I was OK.
Through my gasping sobs, he somehow deciphered I was lost. A 10-year-old in Vancouver who talked my parental unit into allowing me to walk straight down the street a few blocks to the store that is in eye’s view and walk back. What I didn’t lay out on my expedition was that store had two doors. Elated that I was allowed to venture alone in this big, cool city, I neglected to see that second door that led to another street. Another street that looks pretty darn similar to the one I came off of.
The man walked me to a police station that was just a block over and sat with me talking about Vancouver while they contacted my family to pick me up. The slushy that I bought at the store had melted, but so had my tears, all that remains is the memory of that man helping me out when I am sure 20 other people walked right on by.
It’s amazing how much a little thing like that can have an impact on you in adulthood. Those 15 minutes I was lost in the big city stick with me today. Just ask anyone who has ever taken a road trip with me driving. The second I get off course panic sets in and I become a hot mess. OK, not the crying bit but I for sure have mini anxiety attacks about completely getting lost when I am the one tasked with getting to a destination. Put me in the passenger seat and it is just another carefree adventure. Take for instance the time my boyfriend and I rented a car in Cuba and fell off the beaten track and traded wide armed gestures and quizzical looks with the locals trying to decipher what advice was being offered. Then getting pulled over by the police for reasons we still don’t understand today and paying them a fiver to leave, it was all chalked up to a good story.
So when I went to Moscow for the day, enroute home from Sochi where I spent almost six weeks working during the Olympics, I was again in awe of this big, cool city. I’m not sure if it was the wide-eyed look I had as rush hour began as I hit the train station and millions of Muscovites were headed out to their work day, or the obvious tourist signals I gave with a 50-pound backpack, roller luggage and a Sochi duffle bag awkwardly slung around my shoulders that gave me away. Or, maybe it was the massive lineup I managed to get all that gear through to purchase a ticket and my inability to communicate with the toll booth worker what it was I wanted.
Pointing at things does no good when the only words in Russian you confidently know are spasiba (thank you), nasdrovia (cheers), privet (hello) and dosvedanya (good night). I was definitely a tourist. And, one who was lost. Panic began to set in. I was taken back to 10-year-old me in Vancouver. I leaned against a wall out of the way of the bustling foot traffic of one of the world’s busiest metro systems to catch my breath and have an epiphany.I am in the driver’s seat on this trip and took Tom Hank’s advice: “there is no crying in baseball (Moscow).”
While I checked myself well before the waterworks were near, I pulled out my crude sheet of train destinations in Cyrillic to English translation and trudged on. I confidently walked through the crowd managing my luggage down the steep, long escalator and on to a train. I continued my newfound confidence at my next stop to change tracks enough so that I even took in the beautiful marble architecture of the metro stations. That is until I couldn’t find the next escalator.
Instead, an ominous mountain of stairs faced me and my increasingly heavier luggage. I attempted the first couple of steps only for the sheer weight of it pulling me back to the ground level. Now what? As I was pondering what to do and anxiety slowly started to build as people jutted around me, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A man dressed cleanly in a suit, overcoat and carrying a briefcase said, “Hello, can you please let me help you?” Taken aback that he spoke English, I had no issue when he grabbed my roller luggage and offered to take one of my other bags. I laughed and said I think you might have second thoughts on the other bag once you try lifting that one. I could tell by the strain on his face, he was also thankful I didn’t pass over another bag to him. He graciously carried the bag packed tight with clothes, my hockey skates and six weeks worth of other stuff up the giant staircase.
When we got to the top he asked where I was going and said he would walk me to the proper platform. He told me how he had been to Canada once before and loved the people. I replied much the same about his country and the people I had connected with. That little bit of brevity in the moment of being lost, alone and not knowing exactly what I was going to do next put me at ease.
While some of the best random acts of kindness are anonymous, mine had faces. I never got the full names, and the chance of them reading this is next to impossible, but I can’t thank those two men enough. They made an impact on me and changed my day. Today is Random Acts of Kindness Day in the South Okanagan, and whether you buy someone a coffee in line behind you, simply say something nice to a stranger or tap someone on the shoulder and offer your assistance, know that little gesture will most likely make their day and, if like me, will stick with them for a lifetime.
Kristi Patton is the editor of the Penticton Western News