‘Kindness,’ I wrote to a friend of mine in the UK last week, ‘is a simple human virtue and I always marvel at how some people seem able to intellectualise it away so thoroughly.’
It was a muggy May day in 2001 when my wife and I walked over the bridge on the River Kwai. Yes, that bridge.
I counted every step, because it was said that one life had been lost for every sleeper laid along that line – which the Japanese needed to run from Nong Pladuk, past Kanchanburi – where most of the original bridge still stands – to Thanbyuzayat in Burma, where they were fighting a war against the British.
It was a sombre moment. There are cemeteries standing in the lee of the bridge, along the Kwae Yai river, the last resting places of the servicemen – British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian – who were worked to death building this railway. Most of them are British. We found fresh flowers on one of the graves.
As we reached the other side, a tropical rainstorm erupted across us. It was typical of the season and area. For a moment we wondered about dashing for shelter under the bridge abutment – and then a young girl turned up, as if by magic, with an umbrella. She stood by us on the bridge approach until the rain had passed. ‘Here,’ my wife said, offering some cash. We were used to the peddlers in Bangkok. But the girl refused, smiled, and was gone.
An act of selfless kindness. Small, perhaps, in itself; but offered unasked – and with nothing asked in return, in that place with its memories of horror.
A lesson for us all, I think. It is easy to pay lip service to these things. And it is, I fear, one of the harsher realities of the human condition that we seem so easily able to intellectualise our way out of being kind. But it is – equally – also within our power to be genuinely nice. To help others, wanting nothing in return. As that young Thai girl did, that May day in 2001.
What do you figure? Talk to me. And share your experiences. I’d love to hear from you.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012