Dressed in my blue patent leather pumps with kitten heels and blue coat with its swingy hem and oversized buttons, I had boarded the LIRR at the Farmingdale station. Now the train was rocketing into the East River tunnel to its destination in New York City.
I dug in my purse to check the ticket and letter. Did I have the right day? Did I have the right ticket? Did I have the subway token? I reread the letter (for the third time that day) addressed to me on stationery from Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
We are pleased to inform you that you are one of just 1,000 high school seniors from 537 schools in the New York Metro area to be awarded the 1967 “Lincoln Center Student Award” in recognition of academic excellence, qualities of leadership, and interest in the arts.
I am grateful to those teachers who took the time to nominate me for the award. I would attend free one ballet, one opera, one drama, and two concerts at Lincoln Center.
Gratitude is a sort of laughter of the heart that comes about after some surprising kindness.
At the concert hall, the opulent, multi-tiered chandeliers dazzled me. The plush red carpet hushed the lively conversation into caressing whispers. The fragrance of corsages, patrons’ perfume, and floral displays transported me to exotic lands. As I stood in the aisle, transfixed, the other audience members jostled me as they eagerly sought their seats.
This award was transformative, a pivotal point, one of several experienced in my teens and early twenties. They were signposts that directed the way to opportunity, hinted at new ways of being, revealed hidden talents, and breathed life into my plans and dreams.
Often, change starts as an act of kindness in the midst of adversity.
Grace was one of my “change agents.” She and her husband, long-time neighbors of my aunt and uncle, were a childless couple about 10 to 15 years older than my parents. Grace always had a big smile for me and frequently would invite me into her comfortable home for a sweet treat. She encouraged me to talk about my teenage concerns and interests. I thought that she, like many adults, was just being polite. I was wrong–she was genuinely listening and caring.
One year, when I despaired over the dismal state of my parents’ marriage, Grace wrote me a long, encouraging letter. She penned the words my heart needed to hear, “You have every reason to have hope despite the chaotic state of your family.” I am grateful for her willingness to speak a simple truth and help me see that I could aspire to have a fulfilling life beyond the family drama.
Another pivotal point happened at a Laundromat.
When you’re 21, working minimum wage jobs, renting a room with kitchen privileges in someone’s house, and struggling to pay for college one course a semester, thoughts of getting ahead are an exercise in frustration. I watched my high school friends move on to good jobs and careers, even marriage, and felt powerless to make a better life for myself…until I met Cathy. At least that’s what I call her now, because I can’t remember her name. Shame on me, because she was one of the most influential people in my life. She was an admissions officer at Hofstra University.
As we separated our “darks and lights” and chatted, Cathy heard my longing for a better future and took action. Later, at our appointments in her office, she helped me to complete financial aid forms. With her guidance, I received a full scholarship enabling me to complete my undergraduate degree and make the most of my potential. For that, I am most grateful.
That best portion of a man’s life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.
Have you been the recipient of an unexpected act of kindness? If so, how pivotal was it in your life?