It was that first day at school feeling, all over again. Except I was now 27. I stepped into the dining hall, confronted by the sound of voices and clanking plates and an overwhelming sea of faces. The man was dressed in black leathers, motorcycle gear, with crash helmet in hand but the child within felt tiny, lost and intimidated. I glanced around, searching for anyone familiar, a spare seat next to someone I vaguely recognised. Nothing – and no-one.
And then, surprisingly, my eyes settled on a young woman walking towards me, smiling, a striking look of care and kindness on her face. Jo reached out and asked me if I would like to join her and her friends at her table. She was a stranger showing compassion to a stranger. I felt rescued and relieved. A sense of being invited, welcomed, the beginnings of belonging. It felt good, warm, strengthening, sacred. And I have never forgotten it.
This Jo came to mind afresh this Easter. In the midst of all the controversy about a Prime Minister and his faith, I felt tempted to join arguments over conflicting positions. It’s so easy to reduce our humanity, and our spirituality where we hold it, to abstract principles combined with a self-evident conviction that we are in the right. But Jo’s example has spoken to me of something different – to reach out with kindness and show compassion.