Many many years ago (Stella will NEVER reveal her age) I was having an adventure after college, staying in youth hostels throughout Europe. While in Dublin, I awoke one morning to find that both pairs of shoes I had in my backpack had been stolen. Understand, friends, that I am not talking Manolos here, one was a pair of hiking boots that had about 50,000 miles on them and the other was a pair of old Keds with a tear at the toe.
At times like this, I think you really decide whether small challenges are going to shorten your life or not. Anger and worry take years off ya, ladies! I chose not to let it get to me. I remember thinking, if someone wanted THOSE BEAT UP SHOES so badly, they clearly had worse problems than my bare toes, so I sort of shrugged it off.
As you can imagine, it is difficult to leave a hostel much less sightsee without shoes. One of my roommates, a girl named Aoife, immediately came to my aid, loaning me a pair of her shoes so I could go buy my own pair. So I left the hostel and boarded a bus, where I got into a conversation with a priest, who was taken aback that an American would have such an Irish looking pair of shoes. (How bizarre that he even noticed!) I told him the story, and how I felt about it—that the poor soul who coveted my scruffy old boots was clearly in dire straits. He complimented my perspective, and then got a gleam in his eye.
Suddenly he stood up in the moving bus and told the passengers of my plight and took up a collection to buy me a new pair of shoes. I had heard about Irish hospitality, but this was a bit over the top. And all around the bus, little old ladies were pulling out pounds from coin purses, and brusque looking construction workers passed over wadded notes, and teenagers handed over their change, and a young “Mum” even had her five-year-old come over to give 50p.
In all, the priest collected about 40 pounds ($55) in about 2 minutes, all for a disheveled girl who was turning seven shades of red with embarrassment.
Of course I refused to take it. I had enough money for a new pair of shoes, and in those days, Irish people were a pretty poor lot, so the idea that an American girl with enough money to travel would take their pounds was too much for me.
The priest wouldn’t take it back, and me efforts to give back the notes and coins fell on deaf ears. In the end, I put the money in my purse, vowing to myself that I would pay it forward.
Frankly, I forgot about the money for about two months, when I found myself in Budapest, in a home stay. I had just found the money earlier that day in a purse pocket, and asked the woman I was staying with if there was someone in the building that particularly needed some help. She told me about an old woman living on a communist-sized pension in a newly capitalist world. So late at night, I tiptoed down the hall with the money in an envelope, on which my hostess had written “a Christmas present from Ireland.”
I know it didn’t change that woman’s life economically, but I bet she thought about the wonderful surprise of it, and the welcome cash infusion, for the rest of her days. I am writing this in the off chance that any of the generous women on that Dublin bus have joined DivineCaroline…if so, I wanted to tell them that their generosity made a poor Hunagrian woman’s Christmas wonderfully surprising and joyous.
Cheers from Stella