A lucky break

How one trip and an act of kindness has changed the way I want to live

When I think of a word that could best describe what I’ve always wanted for myself and others, I think of the word ‘empowered’. It’s an interesting word for many of us because it doesn’t necessarily define how one might get there, but merely focusses on the feeling itself. That is what I wish for us all. That is what I’ve always wanted for myself and as I sat on the bank of the Spree, one sunny Berlin afternoon, that’s the word I thought of. I was halfway through a wonderful day of experiencing one of the most creative cities I had ever set foot in and decided to take a break to just sit on some grass, eat a mildly interesting sandwich and watch the river. I was here on my own, on the verge of attending a prestigious university workshop that I had been invited to, and I was thirty years old and living my life on my own terms and conditions — I don’t know about empowered, but I certainly felt powerful enough to quietly declare to the universe that my independence and hard work had brought me to this point in my life. Yes, I was filled with gratitude for those who had helped me, but I suppose the truth is, that a part of me might have confused a sense of accomplishment with that of arrogance.

But you know what they say, pride comes before a fall and that’s actually pretty much exactly what happened. That very evening, while walking with a very dear friend, I twisted my right foot, hit it against a very unassuming cobblestone, and fractured it. I would only find out that it was a fracture the next morning, after a rather lonely and excrutiating 6 hour wait in a local hospital that had me leave with a hospital gown around my waist, a smurf worthy blue cast on my right leg and matching crutches. I reached my hotel room, flung myself on my bed and bawled to my family back in India. I had never felt more alone, scared or unlucky in my entire life.

I genuinely couldn’t believe my luck. Even at the hospital, I refused to believe the severity of the break and silently suffered the crumbling deterioration of my wanderlust craving, independent, stubborn, free spiritedness. When my friend came over to my hotel room with dinner, we surveyed the cast in disbelief and a gradual sense of mounting fear began to overtake my thoughts — how was I going to get through the next week? I was scheduled to leave for Hildesheim the next day, where I would spend a week being a part of an academy hosted at the University of Hildesheim. The good news was that the University team was prepared to help me but I still had to figure out getting to Hildesheim, with my new found mobility challenges.

The next morning, my friend helped me pack, check out of my hotel and took me to the central station where I had to board a Deutsche Bahn to Hildesheim. He made sure I was comfortable seated, stowed away my crutches and luggage. The limits to my mobility were also becoming obvious to the both of us, as we noticed how I struggled with the crutches and barely made it a few steps before needing a rest. Climbing up and down steps, even the tiny ones you need to use to get into a train — unimaginably tricky all of a sudden. I honestly wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it wasn’t for his help that afternoon, and it was a big deal to really let myself acknowledge that. You see, when you’re someone who has grown up believing that independence is a virtue and a freedom that comes to you at a heavy cost, you do everything to guard it. I was brought up by hard working, middle class Indian parents who always encouraged me to do my best, by providing me excellent resources for an education and instilling within me, the exacting standards of perfection and self-reliance. So even though Sesame Street and Disney had filled me with hope, like most people, I grew up finding out that more often than not, people will dissapoint you either because they want to or because they just do.

So as I sat there in my seat, watching the beautiful German countryside go by, I thought to myself that the worst was over. In a few hours, I would be at Hildesheim and I would have assistance. I wasn’t going to let this get in the way of my work, my dream and my journey. But, fate had a few more twists in store for me. Owing to some confusion, I couldn’t get off at my stop in Hildesheim because, I just couldn’t move myself or my luggage and the person who I had asked for assistance, bailed on me. My eyes filled up with angry, hot tears as my voice trembled and I told no one in particular, that I had to get off this train immediately. I must’ve looked pathetic, for here I was in an unfamiliar town, in a foreign country, a complete tourist, without a local phone, clearly suffering from mobility impediments, alone and ready to sob. I officially felt my heart sink into a never ending abyss of anxiety.

I want to stop my little narrative here because I believe that everything that happened from this moment on, completely changed my perception of people, relationships, responsibility, trust and kindness. I believe that by hitting rock bottom (because, really what is rock bottom if not the complete loss of hope), I had no choice but to look up and around. It was from this moment, that I really learnt the value of recieving the help of other beings, with trust, grace and gratitude.

Unbeknowst to me, a young girl heard me and had immediately ran to the front of the train, in the hopes of asking the engine driver to stop a little longer. German precision got the better of us all, and the engine driver, though sorry, said he couldn’t stop the train and that I had to get off at the next station which was an hour away. Without a phone, I suddenly realised how much I took for granted as an able bodied, English speaking traveler. I was officially beat and my usual sense of guarded calm and optimism cracked to reveal a scared, anxious little person riddled with self-doubt and ready to accept all the help she could get, from anyone and anywhere. The good news is that help came and it kept coming. It began with one of my fellow passengers lending me his phone so I could call the university folk who immediately recalibrated themselves for the situation I was in. It continued when I realised I had to transfer to a different platform to catch a train back to Hildesheim, and was immediately met with a “We’ll help you!” from the young girl and her boyfriend, almost immediately after I asked the ticket collector how he expected me to get to another train on crutches and with luggage.

As the young girl and her boyfriend carried my things, I wondered to myself whether I would’ve done the same for someone else in my situation. I was ashamed to realise that I was genuinely unsure of my response. In my pursuit of an alternate version of success and glory, I had still managed to sideline the important goal of being a good person and now, while being showered with kindness and trust from two complete strangers, I felt like the worst version of myself. The girl was a student at the University of Hildesheim and wished me luck for my workshop. As my next train drew nearer, she quickly offered me her phone, claiming that she could always find me and get it back later because I needed it now more than she did. I couldn’t believe I was even encountering such kindness and I refused because, what if I never saw her again and couldn’t return it to her. “It’s just a phone”, she said and those words changed everything for me. As I waved goodbye to the pair of them, I realised I didn’t even get the chance to ask them their names so in true Disney mode, I just nicknamed them, my angels.

I met a lot of good people that trip, some of whom are dear friends whose names I do know, thankfully and am very much in touch with. Many of them live in various parts of the world, but we stay connected thanks to the work we do with artist rights and the creative community, along with an underlying but strong sense of kinship we all feel with each other.

As I write this from my desk at home, I am happy to report that my foot has healed and my spirit is getting there. When I opened myself up to the kindness and trust of others, I felt like I had tapped into something very old, very treasured and very basic — something that is crucial to the life force of us all.

The world is a weird place to live in because it’s unpredictable, scary, amazing, diverse and yet so purposeful. Now more than ever, we need to understand that there exists a reservoir of kindness and compassion from where we ought to draw our energy from. If we want a better world, we need to start with ourselves as individuals and focus on the pursuit of being better inside, instead of just being better entrepreneurs or CEOs or life coaches or what have you. We could call it anything, but strip away the labels and the fluff, and what you’re left with is the choice to be a better person by choosing to be kind, compassionate and trusting of those around you. It is by no means an easy choice or maybe it is — that’s the part I’m trying to figure out as I embrace my own set of personal and professional changes.