The summer of 2008, my friend Min and I met a man outside the gold doors of Times Square Church in New York City.
The man had just gotten back from the dentist and was wearing a green shirt. His warm greeting surprised me because we were total strangers. Okay, maybe curious strangers, but I still haven’t figured out why he shared with us. We learned he held a steady job; he just didn’t have a home. This point was emphasized without self-pity or anger. He told us a little about life on the streets. Somehow, this short and random conversation comforted us as we went on our way and took up positions cooking and cleaning for NYC Rescue Mission
It was our last day in New York when we decided we would try to find him and thank him. Yet, we managed to get lost somewhere in the grid between Canal Street and 42nd. He was not there when we finally arrived. Neither were the other men we had seen with him. There was no fairytale resolution.
Yet, I am still glad for that first and only encounter.
I know that passing conversations can feel so flimsy, so often taken for granted. And maybe our individual acts feel too small-- too unimportant in the form of a Hello or a scoop of mashed potatoes -- that we believe we are useless.
Photo Credit: anotherkcblog.com
But this man proved to me that every scoop and every word counts.
He had noticed us first and greeted us simply for being there. Min and I were not wearing some “I’m a volunteer!” t-shirts. I didn’t even realize he was someone experiencing homelessness.
Yet, that conversation sparked my progression from shy thinker to hopeful engager. In the three years since having met him, I’ve gone on to work in interfaith dialogue, fair trade advocacy, and continued homelessness outreach. His kindness strengthened me. So I pass it on.
Do you have a story about someone who has taught you kindness? We’d love to hear about it!