The flow of kindness

The church door, open for business on Sunday, after sheltering a homeless man on a rainy night on Friday.

The church door, open for business on Sunday, after sheltering a homeless man on a rainy night on Friday.

June 26th was a night of people helping people. After enjoying delicious food, drink, and the company of tall ship sailors at the gala event for Tall Ships Philadelphia-Camden, I headed back to my hosts’ apartment. I asked a young man for help finding the bus stop for the ride back to Spring Garden Street, and he kindly walked me almost all the way to the stop. In the rain. At first I thought he was being nice in hopes I would give him some money, but, no, he was just being helpful.

The bus stop was in front of a church, so I went up into the doorway to get out of the rain, but then an elderly homeless man with a cane slipped on the wet granite steps as he tried to make his way up them. I went back into the rain and down the stairs to help him, but another passer-by reached him first, helping him stand, putting the cane back in his hand, and wishing us both a good night.

Realizing that the church doorway, with a piece of cardboard on the threshold–was the homeless man’s sleeping space, I moved on, but could not find another dry place. So there I was, standing in the rain at a Philly bus stop near midnight. Soon, a man came to wait for the bus. He had almost no teeth, and only one eye. He asked me if I could give him some money, and I told him I was sorry, but could not. Even so, the old man was friendly, and we chatted a while. He told me he had been treated meanly by the city, and was thinking about moving to Florida this summer. I told him this was my first visit to the City of Brotherly Love, and that I had come to be there, by winning tickets to the tall ships festival and a party. The man opened the plastic grocery bag under his arm and offered to share a small box of Cheez-It crackers. I declined, but thanked him, saying that I had eaten enough at the fancy party. The man rubbed the white bristles that lined his dark chin, and asked what was to eat and drink, and who was there. I told him that the catered food was delicious, the bar was open, the tall ship sailors had made it fun, and that I had reconnected with two friends. All of this pleased him very much, and I could see him imagining what it must be like to go to such a fine event.

Once on the bus, the old man asked me to sit with him so we could talk until my stop. I agreed, and we did. I was worried about missing my stop while chatting, but two other people on the bus had overheard me saying that my stop was Spring Garden Street, and they called out the street name to me as the bus stopped there. I thanked them and hopped off the bus quickly, stopping on the rain drenched sidewalk to wave at the one-eyed man as the bus continued on.

As I approached the door to my hosts’ apartment building, a woman, who was going in ahead of me, stopped and held the door–while balancing a pizza box and her bicycle. She was trying to get both up the steep, long staircase. I offered to hold the box, which made it a lot easier for her to get the bike up the stairs. At the top landing, she thanked me kindly for my small gesture. I went on to my temporary quarters and sat for a moment to reflect on the flow of small-but-meaningful kindnesses  shared among strangers on a rainy night in the city.

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