Julia and I are sitting in the sun by the River Lot in the beautiful medieval town of Cahors … well actually I am sitting on a bench and Julia is attempting to take my photograph, with the amazing Pont de Valentré in the background. We are supposed to be having a ‘picnic lunch’ but I am being rather ‘grumpy’. To be honest we are actually having something of a ‘domestic’ (as we call them). Not a major argument (we never have big arguments) but a little one. Julia is getting too near to edge of the river bank (she is concentrating on taking the photo and not looking where she is going) and I am afraid she might fall in? It’s not that I am bothered about Julia … she is a very good swimmer and the River Lot looks quite sedate (compared to the River Dordogne only a couple of weeks ago) … but she is using my expensive camera and she might take that with her if she does fall in?!
As we are having our ‘domestic’ and elderly French gentleman walks up to us and asks us if we are tourists? We ‘cool’ the argument immediately and tell him that indeed we are and that we love his beautiful town, and that this particular bridge is amazing. He nods appreciatively and wanders off again … but only as far as a nearby bed full of roses. He gets out his clasp knife (all the French men seem to carry one of these for cutting their bread and cheese and fruit) and cuts off a beautiful red rose which he brings back to us and gives to Julia with a little bow. ‘Be kind to one another!’ he says … and starts to walk off again. We call him back to thank him, and get into conversation. We feel somewhat contrite that he obviously noticed our ‘domestic’ and are not sure what to say to him.
Sensing our embarrassment, he explains that his wife of many years sadly died only a few days previously … at the beginning of the week. He is obviously feeling a bit lost and is probably taking his usual walk by the river (perhaps a walk they often shared) and ‘thinking about things’. Perhaps he was wondering if he had been ‘kind enough’ to his wife while she was alive? It is amazing how we think about all the things we could have done for various people when they were still alive, after they have died? I suspect, however, that he was probably very kind towards her … he strikes me as that kind of man … and wants us to be the same to each other. We wish our command of the French language was better than it is so that we could say something helpful to him in his loss. He seems to gain something, however, from the fact that we have stopped to talk with him … well, listen to him that is.
I have not forgotten this incident, or this gracious man’s advice, even though we have been back in the UK (after our holiday in France) for two weeks now. ‘Be kind to one another!’ We know the importance of this of course but it is amazing how sometimes it takes an incident such as this to drive it home to us. Of course his words are an echo of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Ephesus: ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you!’ (Ephesians 4:32). Perhaps the members of the church and congregation in Ephesus at that time were embroiled in a ‘domestic’ of one sort or another themselves? It would not surprise me if this was the case. I don’t know if this man was simply quoting the Apostle, of if he had any kind of Christian faith, or whether it was just something important he wanted to share with us? Whatever the reason it was timely.
Reflecting on the ‘atmosphere’ in the UK, following the result of the recent ‘Referendum’ on whether or not to ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ the EU, this advice seems to be a ‘good word’ for every one of us right now. Whichever side of the debate we may be on we still need to ‘be kind to one another’. There is too much vitriol going around as a result of the decision to ‘Leave’. People on both sides are guilty of this … perhaps inevitably so in some ways given the closeness of the result … but we cannot continue in this way. We all have to accept the verdict (and I voted to ‘Remain’ by the way), make the best of it, and (with God’s help) endeavour to work together to build something solid for the future.
The Greek word that the Apostle Paul uses for ‘kind’ here in his exhortation to the Ephesians means be ‘good, pleasant, gracious, kind-hearted’. In other words something that stems from within rather than something that is simply ‘pasted on the outside’ – a ‘virtue’ rather than just a ‘value’? Having said that perhaps ‘practice makes perfect’ and we need to start by making ‘kindness’ one of our ‘core values’ in the hope that it will eventually become something we totally absorb into our being so that it becomes one of our ‘characteristic virtues’.
So … when Julia sent me out shopping the other day … I remembered the kind action and wise advice given to me in Cahors, by the River Lot, and I recalled the wise words of the Apostle Paul … and I added ‘flowers for Julia’ to the list she had given me. I didn’t buy her red roses (well, they were very expensive and you have to draw a line somewhere) but I did buy her some freesia (her very favourite)… well it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it!