In my twenties, I got stranded in NYC. Well, not really stranded; my folks lived there. But I lived in Austin, TX. Being poor, I had to take the bus.
I get to the Port Authority (NYC’s central bus depot) and have a while to wait. I go outside and start milling about. The area around the PA is a bit shady, even today, but was much worse then (early 90′s.)
A man walked up to me, perhaps in his forties. If not homeless, he looked like he was working on it. He asked me about my hair wrap — colored embroidery floss braided into a length of my hair — and reached up to touch it. I drew back and started away. He walked after me. There were enough people about that I found the courage to turn around and demanded, “WHAT!?!”
He was startled. He looked around a little bit, and then, meekly, “Man, I need some help.”
“Look, man, I really don’t…”
He interrupted me, “I don’t know how to write.”
I was caught off-guard, “Pardon?”
“I haven’t seen my daughter in six years. I just got her address and want to try and talk to her, but I don’t know how to write,” he went on, “and she lives in Augusta.”
“Okay, got a pen?”
Ten minutes later, with a ‘borrowed’ pen, we’re sitting on a bench. He’s ranting streams of conscience sentences that would run on and on and seemingly jump back and forth in time with lengthy descriptions of places he’s been, things he’s seen and that time when he was being chased by the cops and…
Looking down at the pad, I had the young woman’s name and a comma.
Finally, I said, “I think I have plenty to go on. How about I work on it and I’ll read it to you when I’m done, okay?”
He agreed, and we sat quietly, except for a few questions I had.
Because I’d be on the road for forty-four hours, I’d brought provisions. It was still morning, and I had a corn muffin with me. I reached into my bag, pulled it out, unwrapped it and broke it in half, absently offering my new friend the other half. He took it and thanked me.
I went on writing. After a bit, I looked over to see him with his hands in his lap, looking blankly at the muffin half. Then, a single tear.
I asked what was wrong.
He said, in that way that people who are crying talk with food in their mouth, “No one’s ever been this nice to me.”
We both sat there and quietly cried for a while.
It crushed me that such a simple act of kindness was the nicest thing anyone had done for this poor guy.
Go out and perform a simple act of kindness. It could change someone’s life.