Of losts and founds, friends and strangers…

I googled ‘lost’. It said – ‘that which has gone and cannot be recovered’. That makes sense, and would apply to these things: – my youth, my cool, my eye sight. When I was young and foolish, I once lost a pile of library books after leaving them in a public toilet and tried to convince the librarian it wasn’t my fault. Now I’m old and foolish (and there are no public toilets) I leave them in cafes, and once distressingly on a beach in France. On both occasions, I paid a hefty fine. And quite rightly.

My daughter left her bag on the train after work. It was on the luggage ruck and she forgot it. We are in Sussex, at the end of the line, so when she realised, she hopped back on to look for it. There is usually a ten minute wait or so at our end but suddenly she realised the train was moving. She rang us in a panic as it sped back to London.

“What shall I do?”

My husband and I were in the car. “Get off at Buxted!” we chorused.

“But what about my rucksack?”

“Find a guard, or the driver!” We lurched to the left as we changed direction and headed off to the next village to find her. She got off and ran along the platform. By the time she got to the guard, he’d blown the whistle and jumped back on.

“I left my bag on the train!” she shouted desperately, “Have you seen it? It’s black with flowers on!”

He leaned out of the window as they gathered speed. “No!” he shouted back, “But I’ll have a look and leave it at Oxted!”

She kept running. The train accelerated and she gave up. “OK,” she panted. He cupped his hands to his mouth as the carriage disappeared around the corner.

“O-X-T-E-D!” he bellowed for good measure. (I like this part – I can hear his voice ringing through the night air).

Have you ever tried to follow up train loss? My daughter logged it on-line. My husband asked at our station. You can’t find station telephone numbers anywhere. Google and you’ll just get Southern Rail etc. Lost luggage is taken to Victoria, I was told by a Southern Rail lady. I explained about the guard.

“He’s not allowed to do that!” Her reply was crisp, her manner firm, “All left luggage is taken to Victoria.”

“I understand.” I was patient, “But he may have broken the rules, out of kindness.”

“That is forbidden. All left luggage is taken to Victoria.”

“But I’m sure you can understand, from our point of view, we’d like to check?”

She drew breath, “All luggage…”

“Is it taken to Victoria?” I asked. I could hear her sucking her lips. She wasn’t having it. And she wouldn’t give me the number for Oxted.

“We are not allowed,” she said.

I wanted to be mean and ask her what was allowed, but decided Jesus would prefer me not to. She was only doing her job.

The lost luggage office at Victoria is open 9 -5, weekdays only. What are working people to do? The next day was my daughter’s birthday. I really wanted to get the bag back as a surprise. I went to our station between trains (this is not difficult). I asked the ticket man to check again. He shook his head sadly.

“Lady, there is no one here in the evening. It could be at Oxted but you will have to go there.”

I looked into his kind brown eyes and recognised a friend. “I don’t suppose you could ring them, could you?” I pleaded, “It’s my daughter’s birthday…”

“I shouldn’t,” he said, reaching for the phone, with a rueful smile. I held my breath. He shouted for a bit down the line in incomprehensible train-speak, broke off, asked me when it was left, what colour it was. He put the phone down.

He nodded. “They have it!” I tried to joyfully shake his hand but the plate glass got in the way. So instead I paid for a ticket to Oxted and back.

Thank you Southern Rail

On the day the bag was lost, we were returning from a funeral. I’d lost a childhood friend – it had been a slow loss of the worst kind. She had remained warm, funny, cheerful to the end. We gathered on Monday from all over – London, Sussex, Australia, America. We had been young together, in the same youth group with the same youth-dreams – to leave our town and make our mark on the world. And to some extent, we did. But Ali stayed and made hers where she was, looking after frail parents, supporting friends, volunteering. She did not see it this way. She felt she had somehow missed the mark. But we all knew – her generosity, her kindness, her keeping us all in touch. This was her mark on the world. We tried to see her when we could. But there were jobs and partners, then children, then parents. We didn’t always have time for her. This is understandable, but still regrettable.

I always planned to spend more time with Ali, but then the time was running out. So when she became ill, I made the time. I visited, I messaged, I contacted others. One of the mutual friends I rang told me she had terminal cancer too. Her interest in Ali, her courage, her gratitude was an inspiration. I messaged her every day. She longed to stay around for Christmas with her grandson. I prayed she would. She texted in great excitement about her free Christmas tree. She died this week.

The definition of found is ‘…something discovered by chance or unexpectedly.’ There are different kinds of losts and different kinds of founds. Sometimes we will lose something and it leaves a tiny hole in the heart. Then we find it again and learn how to take better care of it. Now, my daughter puts her rucksack on her lap.

Then, we lose a person and all the things seem so unimportant because this loss leaves a gaping wound full of things unsaid and done. We will never see them again but we may rediscover something more precious and enduring, like a story we used to know – the art of friendship.

And sometimes we will look into the eyes of a stranger and just know – I’ve found you at the right time.

10 thoughts on “Of losts and founds, friends and strangers…

  1. Thank you Deborah for your inspiring piece. I found it really inspiring and very humbling to read. I wonder just how many times we say to olf friends “see you soon” and then receive news that we have left it too late. It is a real priviledge to spend precious time with a dear one who hasn’t much time left in this world, and we may probably never know how much that time spent together meant to them. Seize the opportunity, to pick up the phone and make a date to meet because one day, it may be you waiting to hear from or see that special person.

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    1. That is so true, Gerry, and recent events have made this crystal clear to me. Friends are so precious and we often do not realise how much until we are on the brink of losing them. Thanks for reading and for your lovely comment x

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  2. In the great scheme of things, the loss of a bag is fairly trivial – but the story of its retrieval and the kindness of a guard is a great joy. The loss of loved ones is something else entirely. In these days of easy communication via all our technological gadgets, we have no excuse for not making time to keep in touch. What a beautiful photo chosen for the Thanksgiving Service for your friend. She radiates love and joy. I’m very conscious right now as I anticipate attending two funerals in the next few days that each one brings back precious, bittersweet memories of others who have died. I’m turning into my gran (although nothing like as saintly as she was) as I find myself muttering “Not lost, but gone on before”. Thinking of you as you mourn Alison’s passing, and approach other significant anniversaries too. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy WILL come afterwards…

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    1. Thank you Angela for your lovely comment. You are right about keeping in touch and the ease with which we can do this these days. But somehow nothing can replace a personal visit and, for different reasons, it’s not always possible to do this. Thanks for your kind thoughts. Thinking of you too as you say goodbye to people over the next few days. As you say, it is very bittersweet. It was so lovely catching up with people from my old youth group but sad we met up for such a reason. I am still loving the memory bear you made me for Dad which is here next to me in my study. I will be hugging it a lot over the next couple of weeks 🙂 Lots of love xx

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