Here’s a thing that surprises people. When anyone asks if I have a tissue, the answer is always, ‘No’. Which may not be surprising in itself. But I am an epistaxis sufferer. Or, to put it more plainly: I get nosebleeds.
My first nosebleed exploded when I was six years old and running across our school playground at the end of lunch. I wiped my nose on the back of my hand (I was a grimy kid) and when I moved my arm away, a glistening crimson line of blood stared back at me. There’s a dinner lady in Widnes who is probably still deaf from my screams.
Endless nosebleeds followed. Listening to a teacher in class? Whoosh, nosebleed. Head tucked into a book? Flomph. Blood on the page. Absolutely the worst is when you’ve just had a shower and you are about to start drying off and then, plfff, blood everywhere. You’re now naked, freezing, and you’re going to have to stand for 15 minutes trying to make the whole thing stop before you can get a jumper over your head.
HOWEVER, as dreadful as all this is, nosebleeds have given me ONE useful skill. Over the years, I had to learn to trust people. When I bolted across a classroom and said I needed access to a bathroom or a tissue or to be allowed a new worksheet because I had just bled over my previous one, then, somehow, the world always made it happen.
As a control freak, this was not the easiest thing. I like to make my own decisions. To save other people. My happy place is being the one who can help with things, not the other way around.
Nonetheless, over time, I noticed that whenever I needed a tissue, someone would always produce one. Mums on the underground would pass me pocket-sized packets; servers in fish and chip shops threw napkins; librarians deftly steered me away from precious archive books and dotted at me with an embroidered handkerchief. Always, but always, someone would find me a tissue.
And so, I stopped carrying them. Because it struck me that if everyone else already had tissues to hand, then why add to that? Instead of remembering to put tissues in every bag I owned, I could instead focus my efforts on doing something else helpful. Like, having loads of languages downloaded into Google Translate on my phone so I can help random strangers who are lost on the tube.
Furthermore, I noticed that randoms strangers liked helping. If any of us see someone suddenly bleeding, it’s the most natural thing in the world to leap in and help stop it. By not carrying tissues, then a stranger gets to be helpful with the swish of a tissue-laden hand. Good for them, good for me.
In recent weeks, as the pandemic has taken hold, I’ve struggled with the idea that in order to help the world I must sit at home. My grandfather fought the Boer and First World World and was an admin volunteer in the Second War (because he was too old fight). There have been many times in this last week that I’ve been inches from running out the door to ‘help’. (Not entirely sure what I’d do, probably make tea).
But then, I would remember the tissues. And I remember that there are people out there who have spent their whole lives getting good at doing the things truly needed now – looking after sick people, building protective equipment, delivering items. They are carrying the tissues, and I (indeed, we) need to let them. It’s what they do best; it’s what they pride themselves in. And it’s no use us trying to repeat all their efforts.
Of course, we can volunteer in other ways. Get food shopping for a neighbour. Be an NHS responder. But we don’t need to competitively be helping others ALL THE TIME. We can also do good by showing our gratitude, being humble enough to accept that it’s time for other people to do their bit, and make sure that when we get back out into the real world, we do what we can to pay the good deeds forward. There are a lot of languages on Google Translate. If nothing else, I recommend starting there.