During a particularly rough period of time in my life, there is a moment I shared with a stranger on the New York City subway that made such a profound impact on me that I have shared it in almost every public speaking presentation I have given since. I want to retell that story now. Please note, this act of kindness will seem small. But this story takes place in the early months of 2017. And I’m still talking about it. There’s nothing small about this. It’s beauty lies in its simplicity.
One year after moving to New York City, I was working for a nonprofit near Grand Central Station, which meant each morning I took the shuttle from Times Square to Grand Central Station. If you know anything about the Big Apple, you know that, along with Penn Station, those are some of the busiest stations in the city.
It so happened that the shuttles were under construction meaning that out of the 3 shuttles that spent the day shuffling between Seventh and Park Avenue, only 2 were running. It had been this way for a week or so and that morning, people seemed extra impatient about getting to work. And that morning, the idea of squeezing my way onto a packed train was out of the realm of possibility. So I took a step back. I could wait for the next shuttle.
That’s when a woman on the train looked at me, adjusted her bag, and subtly motioned to the small person-sized spot she had created on the train.
I looked around, thoroughly confused about what was happening. She hinted at a smile. I got on the train and we whisked off to Grand Central. We didn’t talk… didn’t exchange numbers. I don’t even remember if I said a proper thank you. Our entire moment lasted only, well, a moment.
And yet I think about this woman on a near weekly basis.
I think about a single moment four years ago on a weekly basis because that’s how much it meant to me. At a time when I was so unsure about so many things, she saw me. And in that moment, when she made space for me, I felt like I could make a little space for myself too.
And maybe that’s what love looks like when you strip away all the ceremony and noise. At the end of the day, love and kindness look like making space for one another, acknowledging our shared humanity, hearing what people don’t say.
If you think you don’t have the time or resources to help a stranger this week, I want you to think about that woman on the train, who before 8:00 AM on a cold morning on the New York City subway, led with kindness and is now referenced in every speech I give.
It may seem like what you’re doing doesn’t make a difference. But it does.
I promise it does.