A Saturday night in suburban Brisbane. Still in my travel clothes, sitting in a friend's spare room and so ready to fall asleep but not before writing this note. I don't know what time it is. There's no music playing. Just the creak of a home that I'm so glad to find myself in, and the company of people I love dearly. A breeze washes through the window. I try to remember the last time I was this happy. I can't.
It's amazing what a photo can't tell you, even when it's capable of a 1000 words. This is a tiny picture of a big day.
It started with peace, breakfast with some of my favourite people, happy snaps of bougainvilleas in early sunlight, and anticipation of hugging even more of my favourite people at the end of the day, after multiple failed attempts because COVID had kept intervening. It continued with a chaotic morning of forgotten wallets, open suitcases at train stations, frantically looking for lost things, malfunctioning online maps, and getting teary in the back of a ride-share because sometimes my brain gets confused and my spirit gets stressed and when they do, they don't play nicely together.
And then the best thing happened. A really kind stranger in the form of you: my Uber driver, on a sunny Saturday morning in Sydney in late October, as I rushed away from a train it turned out I'd never need to catch.
Three and a half weeks before, I'd had a raging case of COVID, and while I was mostly better - no longer sick with symptoms or infections - the brain fog was getting to be more than I knew what to do with. Before, it was inconvenient. Now it had become genuinely discombobulating, starting to blend in with my epileptic lapses. The joy of having neural pathways that are both affected by the virus, and have been malfunctioning in one way or another for decades, I guess. Even on a good day, I know myself. If Worry gets in the driver's seat, my brain feels akin to whatever wiring mess would exist if you maybe let a mad scientist do a line of tequila shots then hot-wire a tractor.
For that reason, I'd tried to be a friend to myself the night before and rearrange my bag. Put everything where I'd need it to be, so when I left the next morning I'd be as organised as possible. No hiccups. It would be easy. All I'd need to do is leave where I was staying, tap my travel card and catch a train. Done it a thousand times. Simple. Except that it wasn't because I managed to misplace my wallet, miss the train, and get locked out of the house where I was only about 85% sure I'd left said wallet. I ordered an Uber only to discover the map had geolocated me in the wrong spot. You couldn't find me. You sounded annoyed on the phone and I thought you would cancel. I started catastrophizing (I am never more ridiculous inside my head than I am when I'm anxious) and began having enough small seizures in quick succession that I couldn't string a full thought together easily inside my head. If someone has never experienced that feeling before - of being mid-seizure, being aware of it and how it makes you look in front of a stranger who doesn't know - it's hard to impart how weirdly crippling and embarrassing it is.
Finally, though, you found me. I got in the back seat. It was only about six or seven minutes drive back to my uncle's place, but when your entire brain feels like an exposed nerve, six or seven minutes can feel endless.
A few blocks passed by. I stuttered out a few apologies, trying to keep my sentences short. I remember you looked at me in the rearview and regarded what you saw for a minute. "Don't worry," you said eventually, when you realised I was having a moment. "You're stressed, that's hard, and it's important to be kind to each other every chance we get. You're not paying for this trip. When you've picked up everything you need from your house, call me, I will come back and get you. You won't pay for that trip either. Just tell me where you need to go and I'll make sure I get you there no worries, so you can pay forward being kind to someone else."
That morning, I was on my way to the airport hours before I needed to be. It was 10:45am, and I had every intention of going to that terminal so I could sit there and wait for my 6:45pm flight to Brisbane like it was Christmas morning. When I landed, it would be the beginning of two weeks seeing people who mean more to me than there are words to tell you, and from whom I'd been cut off for the longest time.
There's my friend Jayne: firework of my heart, fellow writer, hand to hold in what was probably one of the most crazy, brutal times in both our lives, and beloved human I knew I'd meet at the end of that day in a flurry of the happiest ugly tears ever cried. There's her husband Sheldon, who I reckon has to be one of the best, kindest, most insightful people I've ever met, even when he's thrashing me at a board game. (It's been a week, and twice he's handed me my ass on a platter while also refusing to play UNO) (But he also gave me a Funko Pop, made great bolognese and made me laugh til I thought I would puke, so literally all and then some, is forgiven). There's Catherine - whose life path intersected with mine years ago in multiple of the craziest of ways, and who inspires me infinitely more than she probably realises - and Kianna, who gives me the gift everyday of being the human that puts the kind of smile on my friend's face, that only big, real love can. There's Pam, who reminds me always of the energy that I never want to stop putting out into the world, and Monique, who I haven't seen since we graduated high school in 2000 and who somehow is every bit as stunning and delightful now as I remember her being, then. That's not even everyone. That's just some of the people you helped me get to.
What I hadn't realised until all those silly little things started going wrong that morning, was how worried I was that it would all fall apart at the last minute. Again. The last time I'd said goodbye to a lot of those people, it had been with a smiley, affectionate hug at an airport and a promise to be back soon. We'd never intended it to be years until we next saw each other. We never perceived anything like pandemics or lockdowns or that there'd be a time when the safest thing we could do for people we loved - near or far - was stay away from them. I didn't have a memory of waking up in the middle of the night, unable to remember the last time someone had hugged me: only that it had been a month, maybe two. I know that experience is not at all unique to me. I'm not special or singular in how I'd felt. But that morning, all the anxiety of potentially being cut off from people I loved, came back to me with a rush I'd not been prepared for. A moment where I realised maybe I was less okay than I thought I'd been. And that was the moment I got to meet you.
You'll likely never read this, Mohammed. I know that. But still. I wanted to thank you so much for the enormous, unexpected gift that you gave me that day as I started this journey north. It wasn't just your empathy, or your kindness. Or even how you texted me at the airport to say you hoped I'd been able to check in for my flight okay and to make sure I took better care of my things before heading to the airport next time. It was how you shared your life with me, too. Turning on to the M5, and after double checking that there was nowhere else I needed to go, you spoke about your weekday job at the juice factory. What you enjoyed about it and what you weren't particularly fussed over. You talked about being born in Fiji. About being Fijian-Indian, about the grandmother who brought you to Australia and about how she raised you after your mother died when you were three. You talked about choosing to drive Ubers because you preferred the person you were when you were meeting people and learning new things, as opposed to who you were when you were was sitting at home, just passing time by scrolling on your phone. You saw me in a vulnerable, awkward moment when my whole being felt like it was stuck on a trigger point, and your first instinct was just to make sure I was okay. That I got where I needed to go, so I could feel better again. You shared your story with minimal fanfare in a way that both made me feel better, and reminded me of the importance of checking my privilege at the door. You reminded me that joy comes from doing what you do with integrity - regardless of what the job is - with a focus on the good and a heart for connecting to the good in others, so they might be encouraged to pay forward that grace in someone else's day. No matter who they are, where they come from, where they're going, or the situation in which they are encountered.
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I hope today met you with the same generosity of spirit that you met me. I hope, like I did when I met you, you've encountered at least one complete stranger who unexpectedly made your day. Someone who made you feel safer, valued and more at ease in the world, purely because they thought being kind mattered, in the same way you think being kind matters. Because I can assure you so very much, that it really mattered to me.
With gratitude, and infinitely more than five stars.