instigating a life, one story at a time…

The Good Conductor

In 1982, British author Bernard Hare was an impoverished student who was unable to pay his rent. When the police came knocking at his door, he did not reveal his presence because he was afraid that he would be evicted. However, he realized that since his mother had not been well, and he did not have a phone, perhaps the police had come to tell him to get home quickly before his mother died. He went to a public telephone, called his father, and learned that yes, his mother was dying and was expected to die that night. His father told him, “Get home, son.” He went to the railway station, but he learned that he could get only partway home that night.

Normally, he would have transferred to another train to get home, but he would miss that connection by 20 minutes. He bought the ticket anyway. Mr. Hare says, “I was a struggling student and didn’t have the money for a taxi the whole way, but I had a screwdriver in my pocket and my bunch of skeleton keys. I was so desperate to get home that I planned to nick [steal] a car in Peterborough, hitch hike, steal some money, something, anything. I just knew from my dad’s tone of voice that my mother was going to die that night, and I intended to get home if it killed me.”

The train conductor saw how upset Mr. Hare looked and asked him, “You okay?” Mr. Hare was not in a mood to talk, but the train conductor said, “You look awful. Is there anything I can do?” The train conductor added, “If there’s a problem, I’m here to help. That’s what I’m paid for.” Mr. Hare told the train conductor his story: “Look, my mum’s in hospital, dying, she won’t survive the night, I’m going to miss the connection to Leeds at Peterborough, I’m not sure how I’m going to get home. It’s tonight or never, I won’t get another chance, I’m a bit upset, I don’t really feel like talking, I’d be grateful if you’d leave me alone. Okay?”

The train conductor disappeared for a while, and then he came back and said to Mr. Hare, “Listen, when we get to Peterborough, shoot straight over to Platform One as quick as you like. The Leeds train’ll be there.” He then explained, “I’ve just radioed Peterborough. They’re going to hold the train up for you. As soon as you get on, it goes. Everyone will be complaining about how late it is, but let’s not worry about that on this occasion. You’ll get home, and that’s the main thing. Good luck and God bless.”

Mr. Hare thanked the train conductor, who told him, “If you feel the need to thank me, the next time you see someone in trouble, you help them out. That will pay me back amply. Tell them to pay you back the same way and soon the world will be a better place.”

Mr. Hare wrote in 2010, “I was at my mother’s side when she died in the early hours of the morning. Even now, I can’t think of her without remembering the Good Conductor on that late-night train to Peterborough and, to this day, I won’t hear a bad word said about British Rail. My meeting with the Good Conductor changed me from a selfish, potentially violent hedonist into a decent human being, but it took time. I’ve paid him back a thousand times since then, and I’ll keep on doing so till the day I die.” He tells other people who perhaps think that they owe him something, “You don’t owe me nothing. Nothing at all. And if you think you do, I’d give you the same advice the Good Conductor gave me. Pass it down the line.” – (The Kindest People Who Do Good Deeds – Vol 7)

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