Random act of kindness

New York City on a sweltering spring Sunday afternoon is always an adventure. Heck, any day in NYC is an adventure. Not being a regular in The City, it’s a challenge to overlook the rude drivers, pot-hole riddled streets, streams of trash along the byway leading to the Lincoln Tunnel and the crowded streets where people don’t make eye contact and are focused only on their destination, never mind the people in their way. That said, a series of events happened today that gave me pause and reasons to smile.

A major hurdle in being unemployed for the first time in decades is having to explain my situation to friends and family. I don’t like talking about myself; I’m more into hearing about other people’s lives. Arriving at a Central Park South restaurant to celebrate a relative’s birthday, my well-meaning sister-in-law very brightly focused on the communication consulting projects I’m just finishing up. This is the first time I’ve seen most of this side of the family since all this happened. So, to look in her caring eyes and realize I had to again explain my situation, was a bit much for me at the moment. I had to take a second. So, I battled the restaurant crowd and headed to the sidewalk to breathe. Recovering quickly with my husband’s encouragement, I enjoyed a pleasant brunch, albeit in a packed, noisy restaurant with few ways to have a conversation. A simple pleasure of playing tic-tac-toe with nephew, Noah brightened my mood. You can learn much from the young ones. They have no sense of pain lasting more than 25 seconds and the simplest thing, such as tic-tac-toe and showing off HIS way of spelling DINER (meaning dinner) in games of Hang-Man is what learning about life really means.

The random-act-of-kindness moment began when we were listening to 1010WINS radio and Mayor Bloomberg’s weekly address as we drove toward the Lincoln Tunnel. He talked about stepping up in the community and serving; he mentioned going beyond the random act of kindness. Later in the afternoon as Doug and I walked toward our car on the Upper East Side, I glanced toward an elderly woman walking in the same direction we were. She was asking a young woman walking the other way if she could PLEASE walk her to her apartment building on 90th and Lexington, about a block away. Doug and I continued past, but we commented how it was odd this woman was asking for help. Doug thought she needed to walk to 98th street, which would be a good 10 blocks or so. When I told him I thought she said 90th Street, he did an about-face. The next thing I saw, was Doug taking the short, white-haired woman’s arm. Dressed in a light green top with green slacks, she held on to her shopping cart with her right hand as her house keys dangled from the handle; her left arm slid into Doug’s and her pink-slippered feet shuffled more easily on the sidewalk. She expressed how she had given her professional life to nursing, for not much money. She said how shocked she was that it’s so difficult to find a random stranger who will help her just walk a little ways. Her cart would get caught up on the sidewalk seams; she managed to move the wheels over each bump. She told me she needed that cart to lean on. She needed my husband on the other side.The woman looked up so appreciatively and with pride as Doug told her he is a Scoutmaster. She said she hoped the young men my husband works with learn from his example. She talked about how she was homeless for a time after a work crane collapsed on her apartment building at 51st and 2nd Ave. I do believe she also wanted someone to talk to if only for a few minutes. We listened. Doug’s random act of kindness took fewer than 10 minutes. We left her safely at her building door and wondered how many people she’d asked for help before Doug stepped up.

The other event that made me smile with appreciation, happened as we arrived home. The cell phone rang; Wendy, whose birthday we celebrated in NYC, was calling to thank us again for taking the trip to spend a little time with her. Doug handed me the phone. Let me say up front, Wendy and I haven’t talked that much through the years. But today, she lifted my spirits at a time when I haven’t felt that high on myself. She offered support and encouragement and stressed my search for “what’s next” could take months. She advised me NOT to settle for something I don’t really want. Wendy said she was in the same place at another time in her life and she turned out better for it. It’s NOT that I haven’t heard these pieces of advise or known these things, but to hear advice from a person I had not been particularly close with, really warmed my heart. Who knew she cared? I’m finding that people I think care, may not; others are coming out of the woodwork.

Today’s lessons (and there are lessons every day): random acts of kindness are easier to give than you think; expect the unexpected when the chips are down.

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