The Gentlest Kindness

So, I was just goofing off one day, you know, wandering the street, reading a little, looking for something to do … when I happened upon this old dude across the street. He caught my eye because of what he was doing. First, let me explain what he looked like: He was the cleanest old […]

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So, I was just goofing off one day, you know, wandering the street, reading a little, looking for something to do … when I happened upon this old dude across the street. He caught my eye because of what he was doing. First, let me explain what he looked like: He was the cleanest old guy I ever saw so I knew he wasn’t homeless, or at least it seemed unlikely. He was tall and thin and very smartly dressed. He was clearly very shy because he hesitated when approaching people. That’s what caught my attention. He would be looking down, walk toward someone as if he was going to ask them something, glimpse at their face, and then suddenly walk by them. It was odd. He kept doing this same thing over-and-over again. I was trying to imagine what he was up to. Later it became clear he needed something. I watched him repeat this routine for about 20 minutes when an elderly woman approached. Keep in mind I’m across the street so I can’t exactly see his facial expression, but it appeared to me he seemed more hopeful this time. I was rooting for him. As always, he saw the woman and continued looking down, as she got nearer he looked at her face and this time, low and behold, he said something to her. I cheered inside. He was very nervous, but he marshalled all his courage and greeted her. I don’t know what he said but his smile glistened, and he had the sweetest expression, even from across the street.

At this point I realized he what he was doing. He was reading people. He was hoping to see something in their faces that would invite him to approach. It made me think about what busy lives we lead and how focused we are on our phones and devices, not even inclined to share a moment with a nice gentleman like him. Anyway, the two of them began chatting. I was witnessing the comradery that is shared amongst people of a common generation. In a few moments his nervousness began to fade, he smiled a lot, even laughing at points in their conversation. I envisioned in my mind what they might be talking about. His war heroics, loves, accomplishments, her family, their memories and so on. They both seemed a world away and totally oblivious to the busy street. Nearing the end of their chat the man again acted a tad reticent and almost apologetic. Then the woman reached into her purse and handed the older gentleman two bills. He gladly accepted, placed the bills in his pocket, and the two exchanged pleasantries as they departed. Ah! Now it became clear. The smartly dressed ultra clean older gentleman needed money. I was overcome with a deep feeling of sadness. I decided at that moment there was only one task before me – to get to that sweet elderly man. I would gladly give him the few dollars I had, to share a moment with him, and hear what he had to tell me.

As I walked across the street on my quest to meet him he was on the move as well. There was some traffic, so I was delayed, and by the time I got across the busy street the man had advanced some distance from me. I could still see him, so I was now in hot pursuit. He moved well and so I hastened my pace. About three blocks later I caught up with him and that’s where, on another busy street corner, I witnessed the gentlest kindness. The older man had stopped to listen to a street musician. The musician was a blind man who was particularly gifted at guitar playing. The blind man was playing and singing and didn’t even notice the old man was there listening and enjoying his music. I didn’t want to interrupt so I stood there and watched and listened. A few minutes later it happened. As the blind man was concluding his second song the older gentleman reached into his pocket and took out two bills. He bent over and put one of those bills in the blind man’s upturned hat. He then very quietly walked away. The blind man never knew he was ever there. I was stunned. This very special older gentleman had just given a total stranger half of all his worldly possessions. He had no thought of ever being thanked for it, no need for accolades, no hint of self-interest. “Is it possible that kind of altruism still exists in a cynical world?” – I thought to myself. I had just witnessed the gentlest kindness and the older man gifted me with a life lesson too great to assign a monetary value. Of course, now I had to meet him. After I composed myself I caught up with him, we talked, we laughed, and I gave him a little something. However, what he gave me that day I’ll carry with me forever.

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Thank you.