I was in a stadium at first, surrounded by concrete and not really sure where I was. Then, I heard music, quickly accompanied by a chorus of voices. Soon the voices swelled to that of thousands and almost drowned out the music. The music changed and I recognised the Italian national anthem, then the French one and finally the Irish. I turned a corner and there before me were people from all over the world, in various colours signifying their countries and all of them were singing the different national anthems.
I was delighted to hear the Irish national anthem and happily joined in. Then the music started to fade and, as is the way in dreams, a door appeared before me.
It seemed to beckon to me so I opened it and walked through.
I found myself in a beautiful riverside setting. The landscape was verdant and lush. My feet sank into moss-like grass as I walked along the bank of the gently flowing river. The water was clear as glass and ran over earthen coloured stones. Here and there it darkened to the point where I couldn’t see into its depths. I was mesmerised by its constant flow. However, something drew my attention away from it, a noise, a movement.
I looked up and a beautiful apple tree had sprung up on the far bank, it’s branches laden down with bright red orbs of goodness reaching out and dipping into the water. Then I noticed a figure. She almost seemed part of the landscape at first but as she moved the cloths on her aged form became clearer and more defined.
She moved towards the bank of the river. Another movement caught my attention upstream. I looked and saw that a bridge had formed. I knew instinctively I should cross over the river via the bridge and make my way to the old woman.
I followed my instinct and soon I was only a few feet away from her. From this distance I could see her ancient clothes were made from some type of sackcloth and yet they moulded to the shape of her body like velvet.
I moved closer and could see she had something in her hands. It was a primitive style basket woven from reeds. It was wet and it was obvious she had taken it from the river.
The feeling of overwhelming sadness emanated from her in waves. She continued to look down at the basket as if it had contained a great treasure and she had lost it.
I was concerned for her and moved closer.
“Are you okay?” I enquired, “have you lost something? Is there anything I can help you with?”
She lifted her eyes and looked at me and it seemed that her face stayed the same but was constantly changing. One second she was old, the next she was youthful, the next a little girl, the next a middle aged woman. Her eyes constantly changed colour – so fast that I only had a sense of them changing – all the while they looked grey, like that of a wolf.
“No,” her voice sounded inside my head, “there’s nothing you can do.”
She returned her gaze to the basket and her feeling of profound sadness permeated through me.
“If you need food or sustenance of any type, I can get it for you,” I assured her.
She looked at me again and half smiled.
“There was a time,” she told me, in a voice that seemed to wax and wane, “a time when these baskets were full of gifts from those who had more than me – food, clothing, books, even little treats such as sweets and perfumed soaps. And at one time, for much of my life, I had a great need of these things and I was deeply grateful for the kindness of strangers who would send these baskets of kindness upon the river to a poor wretch like me. Thankfully I no longer have a need for the items in the baskets. Life is better now.”
I noticed her clothes started to change. The sackcloth was now intertwined with silver and soon her clothes started to shimmer.
“But you are so sad,” I said to her.
She looked at me, her eyes, the eyes of millennia, sad and resigned.
“My child,” she responded, “I am not sad because I miss the gifts. I no longer have a need for them. I am sad because the kindness behind the gifts is dwindling, it’s almost gone. There are others as I once was and all they can hope for is an empty basket.”
With that she conjured up a kind smile, turned and walked in the direction of the tree. A shimmer now surrounded her and I blinked and she was gone.
I followed in her footsteps and sat underneath the tree and contemplated her words. I thought about all the times I had benefited from the incredible kindness of strangers – crucial times in my life, times of great hardship and loss. The kindness itself couldn’t change what I was going through but it was the difference between me making it and not.
I thought about the state of the world and all the sad events in recent times and how much just a little kindness could bring about change. I resolved to try and open my kindness valve some more and try and be part of the change.
I can still see that beautiful river in my mind, flowing constantly, like life itself. I hope some day I meet the old lady again and this time she is happy because once again the river is abundant with baskets of kindness.