As a writer, I get occasional invitations to speak at venues. A couple of weeks ago was a great opportunity. The Year 12 students at a Christian College are studying my novel 'Best Forgotten' as one of their core texts. Their teacher asked me to come and speak to them about that book in particular, and also to the Year 10 and 11 students about fiction writing in general. I'd promised to arrive by 9am, which meant jumping out of bed before day break.
I knew three hours would be plenty of time to get as far as Balaklava and thought I had my route planned out. However, my sense of direction is poorly developed. It's the way I was born, and although I know some sort of GPS would be helpful, I haven't got one. It became clear that I must have taken a wrong turn in the city outskirts as I found myself in the thick of morning rush hour traffic. Pulling over to consult my street directory didn't help, as my eye was on the clock and I was beginning panic mode. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out where I was in relation to where I needed to be. Having to flip several pages to try to figure it out certainly didn't help.
My only option was stopping to ask for directions. I ran into the nearest business, which was a day care/baby-sitting facility for dogs. The girl behind the counter looked up Google Maps and tried to explain a possible route, but it was all around the place, and a male colleague of hers asked me to step out the front with him so he could take a look at the print-out.
'Don't worry about these directions she's given you. They're just confusing. Let me think a bit.' After a few moments, he drew me fresh directions on a piece of paper, explaining each step as he went. 'Basically, it's just a few turns.' A couple of other clients arrived with their dogs, and he waved to them, saying, 'Yeah, I'm good at this. I'm 27 years old and know Adelaide well enough to give directions to anywhere.' Then he told me, 'Good luck, I hope you find it.'
'So do I. Thanks.' I managed to find Port Wakefield Road when his directions were all I had to go on. What a relief to drive with a bit more lead in my foot when I got out into the country without speeding outright, and I arrived at the school just ten minutes too late, which was earlier than I'd dared hope. The teacher, who must have been waiting for me, hurried over as soon as I'd parked and said, 'I hope you're Paula.'
We dashed straight to a big auditorium, where all the Years 10 and 11 students burst into applause, presumably because I'd finally shown up.
In retrospect later, I couldn't help thinking about that young guy who worked at the doggy day care, and how he'd been the perfect person to have stumbled across. Giving me those directions was probably just a small gesture for him, but they really saved my day. I don't think I'd possibly be able to find the street of his workplace again to thank him, and he probably wouldn't even remember me if I did. But what a great stroke of providence that I randomly stopped at the place where the person who could give the best, clearest instructions happened to work. Several others were not let down, I managed to have an excellent day too, and it's reminded me that the same principle probably applies to all of us. For all I know, something I said at the school might have struck a chord with some of the students, and the good benefit may ripple further. We never know what our small, helpful gestures will mean in the grand scheme of things. Maybe when we go to bed at night thinking, I didn't achieve much this day, our input was really vital for somebody else.
Thanks heavens for human angels, but I wouldn't mind a GPS some day.