Almost everyone is familiar with the New Testament parable about the Good Samaritan, but your understanding of that timeless story deepens greatly if you are badly in need of help yourself.
My wife and I were in that position recently, when we were returning from holiday in the southern states of the USA. For complex reasons, our United Airlines delayed flight from Atlanta arrived in Newark International Airport three hours late, long after our connecting flight to Belfast had departed.
The customer services staff were unable to help us, because they had no discount vouchers left and all the hotels at the airport were full.
We then discovered that our luggage had been booked on to the Belfast flight for the following night, so we were stranded.
It was at this point that the first of two Good Samaritans stepped in to help us. The baggage manager at United gave us an overnight kit including toothpaste and toothbrush, but more importantly a list of hotels near the airport, and the free use of her office phone.
I still feared that we would have to spend the night at the airport, but my wife Hilary is most resourceful and eventually she booked us a room at the Hilton Hotel in Newark, some three miles away. It was not cheap, but at 1.30am you do not argue about hotel rates.
It was at this point that a second Good Samaritan appeared. A man in a red airport uniform guided us to the right shuttle bus and – like the Good Samaritan in the Bible – he instructed a colleague on board to make sure that we reached the hotel safely.
Eventually we arrived at the Hilton, where we had a comfortable night, and a good breakfast the next morning.
There was an added bonus, because we were able to take the train to Penn Station in New York, right in the heart of the city.
We even had time to walk up to Times Square on 42nd Street in blazing sunshine, and to enjoy a coffee at a local Starbucks – where they were playing Van Morrison music. That's real stardom for you!
The rest of our journey proceeded smoothly. We left for home on the United Airlines flight later that night, and caught up with our luggage the next morning in Belfast.
The real point of this story is the kindness of the two Good Samaritans whose helpfulness made all the difference between a secure place for the night, rather than the worry of finding a corner to sleep in a large and intimidating airport.
Ours is just one of many examples every day of people helping one another, and I often read letters to this newspaper from those who have received help from other Good Samaritans during their visit to Northern Ireland.
Despite the headlines about a minority who behave badly, I know that there is a basic decency and generosity in the vast majority of people everywhere.
An act of kindness to and from strangers, wherever we are, will never go unnoticed, and it can make all the differences to the experience of people whose lives we can touch briefly for the better.
I will always remember our Good Samaritans at Newark Airport in the US, and I will also try to do the same for others in need who cross my path.
Society of Friends shows the way
I heard of a 150th anniversary ceremony to mark the establishment of the Society of Friends' Meeting House in the village of Bessbrook where I grew up.
It was attended by people from different denominations and backgrounds, including parties from the UUP and Sinn Fein. Though community relations in Bessbrook were always good in my time there, they seem to have progressed even further. Sometimes we overlook the fact that 'normality' is emerging here, however slowly.
St Mary's Parish to bloom next May
A festival of flowers in St Mary’s Parish Church Comber is being held from May 22-25 next year, and already the organisers are saying that booking is essential for coach parties and groups.
I know that some of the most popular pastimes in Northern Ireland include brass and pipe bands, indoor and outdoor bowls, homing pigeons and motorcycling. It now appears that I need to add flower-arranging to that list.