In late 2017 I began to share a series of stories on my Instagram which I called ‘Kindness Stories.’ These were short stories about encounters I have had with strangers around the world when I was in need.
These were stories of people who saved me.
Strangers who saved me.
This kindness story is shared by Sue.
Kindness Series Number II
A bar, Kauai, Hawaii
Just before Christmas in 2014, I tragically lost my husband, Terry who went in for heart surgery & never made it back to me. It’s hard to comprehend how your life is torn apart when you face this kind of tragedy. It’s like everything you know about life & everything you know & expect to happen in your future is gone, overnight. I adopted the mantra “When everything changes, change everything”. I took the offer of redundancy from my career of 18 years & went in search of my next chapter in life.
As my way of coping, I broke the next year up into chunks to make it more manageable & followed my passion for travel. In my 20’s before I met Terry, I travelled extensively alone. That year, I had amazing friends & family who offered me all kinds of holidays, joining them to explore Canada, Borneo, Greece, Oregon & Hawaii. I had a great trip with my sister & her family in Oahu but when they left, I knew it was too early for me to return home. I decided to stay longer & head to Kauai. I needed to explore who I was now I was in my mid 40’s & on my own again for the first time in nearly 20 years. It was a great reintroduction to solo travel & an excellent way to challenge myself in social environments. My favourite place was a bar in Hanalei Bay. I was there for 4 nights which meant I kind of became a local & developed measurably as a result.
It was the first time in 18 years I had travelled solo but as a socially confident person, I suddenly found myself awkward. `I was gripped with a fear of strangers which I had never experienced before. I had a mortal fear of awkward questions. What happened if I got suddenly emotional in public? What if I told someone about my “situation” & ruined their night? How would I deal with a conversation without having a friend on hand to bail me out & step in when things got stressful for me?
For many women travelling solo there is an understandable fear of eating alone or being on your own at a bar. I felt the same way, but this was bolstered by a determination not to let that stop me & a drive to challenge myself. Terry & I would seek out cool bars & restaurants wherever in the world we found ourselves & it seemed an alien concept to me to stay in my room alone.
On my first night, I arrived at a packed house & found my spot at the bar. I was perfectly comfortable not to speak to a soul, taking a notebook, phone & book for all eventualities. I didn’t open any of them. There was a popular local artist performing & every other song brought the ladies to their feet for an impromptu hula demonstration. It was beautiful to watch. The other evenings continued in a similar vein & I started to feel at home here, alone.
On my final night, I took my place at the bar again & for once there was no live music. Emboldened, I got chatting to a couple of guys who I recognised and had been there for all my previous visits too. They were drunk & it was the last night of a very enjoyable fishing trip for them. As a woman travelling alone, we are often a source of attention & speculation, whether we like it or not.
As the conversation progressed, I realised this more & more. It started with the “So I’ve seen you on your own each night, what are you doing?” I used my well-practised & highly successful avoidance technique of explaining my trip, without actually saying anything about my personal situation. He persisted with “So, do you have a husband or boyfriend back home & how do they feel about that?”
This was my moment. I couldn’t avoid it. He forced me to tell him what had actually happened. I didn’t spontaneously combust. His demeanour physically changed as the words tumbled from his mouth “My God, you poor girl!”
We ended up having a fascinating conversation about my story, his sister who was battling cancer & his career (an ex-homicide cop with LAPD). He offered to buy me a drink & for once I accepted. As I asked for my bill, he gestured to the barman that he would pay. I argued as I had eaten dinner. He insisted. The barman shrugged, smiled & that was that! I was left with no choice but to thank him profusely & head on my way.
For him, it was a drunken conversation with a woman in a bar. For me, it was a triumph! If I could travel & speak to people without the sickening fear of where the conversation might lead, then the world was my oyster!
My dilemma on what to say & when to tell people my history continues to haunt me on my travels, even 4 years on. However, on that evening in Kauai I learnt some important lessons:
- Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.
- People have an enormous amount of empathy & desire to help if you give them a chance.
- Everyone has their own challenges & sharing them is a positive way to make connections. Some of these connections can turn people into life long friends. Others are there fleetingly but that doesn’t lessen their impact. We will only know if we take the chance.
Words by Sue. You can read more from Sue at her blog Sue Where? Why? What?
A massive thank you to Sue for sharing her kindness story.
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