Something happened at work today that brought to mind an encounter I hadn’t thought about in years….
Late one night, when I was 25-years-old and in graduate school, I was riding the subway home by myself after a night out barhopping with friends. As I took my seat on the empty subway car, I could feel the tears begin to well in my eyes and threaten to spill over. It was a stressful and difficult period in my life, and that night I was feeling lonely and hopeless and unloved. At the next stop, a group of deaf and hard-of-hearing boys and girls about my age got on the car and settled at the opposite end. They were laughing and signing furiously and just generally enjoying themselves. I looked down to hide my tears and when I looked up again, sitting before me was one of the young men. “What is wrong?” he mouthed. I shook my head, swatted at some escaping tears, and pulled out my rusty sign language skills to tell him that my life felt hopeless. For a moment, we just sat and stared at each other. His face showed sympathy, empathy even, for this stranger on the subway. And then he signed back, “You are a beautiful person — inside, too. I can tell. Now is hard, but it will get better. Just hang in there. Please.” By now, the tears were streaming down my face and all I could do was silently mouth the words “Thank you” as he stood up to exit the subway car with his friends. But his caring eyes stayed on me and we watched each other as the cars pulled away.
I never saw my angel on the subway again, so I never got to thank him. That night was a turning point of sorts for me, and I credit that to him. The tenderness and compassion he showed for a lonely young woman was exactly and only what I needed at that moment. He was joyful, and rather than shun the sad figure on the other end of the subway car, he choose to extend some of that goodwill in my direction.
Most of us lead very busy lives, rushing to and fro, checking off our obligations and responsibilities. We are necessarily engaged and engrossed in the task at hand. How often do we really take the time to spread a little happiness? How often do we notice that someone looks nice today and not say it? Or feel pride in our children and not voice it? Or love someone dearly and neglect to tell them except for special occasions or when they desperately need to hear it? When was the last time you told a checkout girl at the grocery store to “Have a nice day” and actually meant it? Everyone has their story and you never know when your small act of kindness or gratitude might turn around a person’s whole day.
I know that this is nearly impossible to do when we’re down or sad or feeling overwhelmed. But in those special moments — those sparkling moments of sheer joy or quiet bliss that make life so incredibly worth it — don’t we almost owe it to each other to share that feeling?
You never know…. you might be someone’s turning point.