This year I hope we can all think like Ines and recognize the everyday opportunities for giving.
Ines Gessner is my high school friend Caitlin’s mother’s childhood best friend. Confused? Rightfully so. How I met Ines is a story that I love telling. It is a story unlike the YouTube videos of patrons yanking intentional suicides from death, or strangers pulling bodies from burning cars. It is a story of everyday generosity, the kind that is perfect in its complete lack of obligation or reward. Like buying a crossing guard a cup of hot coffee, or going out of your way giving someone a ride, it may not seem like much, but it is.
Caitlin told me about Ines and her family before I left for Europe, mentioning that if I make it to Berlin, I should stop by and meet her. To be honest, I doubted that I would end up making the connection, but took her contact information anyway.
When I arrived in Berlin, I scrambled from hostel to hostel after a minor “I don’t have a debit card” incident (it was not minor). When I finally settled at Plus Hostel on Tuesday, I was notified that Wednesday night was completely booked. Not yet worried, I sat down with my laptop in the lobby to find a new place to stay. The calm patter on my keyboard soon became a frantic clacking, as every hostel in Berlin appeared booked. As I left for the free afternoon tour, I couldn’t shake the fear that Wednesday night would be spent sleeping in Gorlitzer Park, where “come here pretty girl” still echoed in my ears.
As I tried to focus on the history and landmarks of downtown Berlin, I suddenly remembered Caitlin’s recommendation to reach out to Ines. I felt embarrassed about calling or emailing her out of the blue, but my trepidation about ending up without a place to sleep overruled. I sent her an email from my iPhone, which promptly died, but luckily my tour group was filled with guardian angels who let me use their smartphones to look up and eventually talk to Ines. When I arrived back at the hostel a few hours later, below is the email I found in my inbox:
Welcome to Berlin! It’s nice hearing from you, also today on the phone, even if we don’t know each other yet. I hope you landed safely here in beautiful and exciting Berlin and have already got some fine impressions. The weather is marvelous for all different kind of things.
You were asking for a room to stay overnight on Wednesday. It happens to be my birthday tomorrow and there will be some people around, so just drop in, too, and stay when the others are leaving. I’m home from work at around half past three p.m. We will then have some tea and delicious cake, in the evening my family and me will go out into a restaurant, where you can of course join us, too.
Just give me a ring and tell me your plans.
Best wishes from
The level of happiness, relief, and gratitude I felt when I read her email is immortalized in my blog: “I think the feeling was equivalent to winning the lottery, finding out your name hasn’t been drawn for the Hunger Games, and feeling your airplane land when you’re scared of flying.”
That night I drank Prosecco and ate cake with Ines and her family. Mind you, I had been living off of apples and trail mix for the last several days. We went out to dinner at a gorgeous restaurant around the corner, where Ines insisted she pay for her own birthday dinner because she was so happy we were all there to join her. That night I took a shower, and slept on a bed Ines had set up for me with lavender sheets and pillows. In the morning she stopped me from leaving until I ate breakfast, another gesture that warmed me to my core.
Ines offered what felt to me like the ultimate luxuries. The things we miss when we aren’t home, when we’re cold and foreign and nomadic. Ines and her family didn’t owe me anything, but their generosity meant everything.
This year I hope we can all think like Ines and recognize the everyday opportunities for giving. Before we say that we don’t have any change on us, or stay seated on a crowded train, we should think for a second of a time when someone helped us just because.