Tonight, we’re talking about how even the simplest act of kindness can make a HUGE difference in someone’s life.
From New York City, I’m Rachel McKinney. This is With Love, Us.
Life is stressful. And living through the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s hard to know which way is up or even to know what to do to help us get through to the other side.
We’re all experiencing moments of anxiety, and needing support and solace from one another. If I’m honest, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by all of this. But even in the midst of this madness and grief, the one thing I know for sure is that we will find a way to come through this. Because, right now, people all around the world are realizing we need each other. Which has always been true. And what I see is one of the biggest gifts we are receiving, is seeing how people are finding ways to come together, and choosing love over fear.
This moment reminds me of a story I wrote right after the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. People felt lost, confused, and everything seemed to grind to a halt. I called the story Time After Time. I hope it helps.
(YouTube & Podcast links of this story are provided after the blog.)
Tonight I am filled with mixed emotions. As I ride the subway home, I notice other weary faces. It's been a long day for all of us. And as my body settles, I realize I am overly tired, because I can’t focus on anything and my mind begins to wander.
The world is under siege and I have friends and family who are much too close to this devastation. Everyone is suffering - with no end in sight.
It’s times like these I am reminded of a kind, gentle man named Fred Rogers. He was a children’s Television host and my childhood hero, who shared with his audience, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
And that’s what I want to do - to help. Find ways to counterbalance this insanity for myself and for those around me, so we’re not frozen in fear. I want people to know - they are not alone.
I have to admit, though, at the moment, I am completely worn down and scared. I’m not sure what I can do or even where to start. In this state, I’m not sure I’m much help to anyone.
When my subway finally arrives at my stop, as I walk down the stairs with these thoughts swirling in my mind, I hear music. For a moment, I freeze, because I feel like I'm inside a movie and this is my soundtrack.
Curious, I turn the corner and see a busker who is playing his electric guitar on the busy sidewalk.
I walk by and smile, silently thanking him for this gift, and then hurry home so I can eat, because at this point it's 10pm and I haven't eaten for 8 hours.
Listening to his beautiful music fade as I walk away, I am drawn back. Now, I have found myself leaning against the metal gate of nearby shop that's closed for the day and listen to him play.
The subway ROARS above our heads, as it noisily makes its way to its next stop. Cars WHIZ by, HONKING their horns, SWERVING around pedestrians. People hurriedly walk between us, unaware of their surroundings, as they talk on the phone.
And yet... I notice none of it.
All I see is this busker.
And all he sees is me.
And this is now my own private concert.
It feels like I'm in the eye of a hurricane. Calm, peaceful, and safe, as everything swirls around me.
The busker is in well-worn clothes, has a scruffy, graying beard, and has a face that reveals he has experienced the world. He is on this exceptionally frenetic corner, sharing his soul, singing a haunting rendition of Cindy Lauper's, "Time After Time."
NOT only do I LOVE his song choice, but I LOVE that he chose Cindy Lauper, because she was born in my neighborhood in Queens!
Just then, another girl walks by, notices this special moment and drops money in to the busker’s guitar case, and also hesitates to leave.
"You can stay, if you want," I tell her. And she comes over to lean on the metal gate with me.
We experience the beauty of this moment together.
When the busker stops playing, I go over to give him money.
I notice his hands are cracked as he lights a cigarette. Xssss… the bright light SPARKS like a beacon in the dark and enhances the silver in his beard.
“Thank you so much for being here today.” I tell him, “This exactly what I needed. I'm Rachel.”
“I’m Danny,” he says.
ME: Are you from the neighborhood?
DANNY: “No.” he says, “I'm staying with some friends in Long Island City.”
He takes a long drag off his cigarette.
ME: Are you from New York?
DANNY: I've lived here 22 years. You?
Then, I notice he’s agitated.
He says, “Do you see the guy behind me?”
DANNY: I wanted to continue playing, but it was hard to concentrate because...
ME: ... because he's casing you. Yeah, I saw him too. I've been watching him for you.
DANNY: I didn't want to think the worst, but... he's been circling me for over a half an hour and sometimes gets a little too close.
ME: It’s good you listened to your instincts. He's definitely up to no good.
DANNY: I would have left already, but I'm parked on a dark street, and...
ME: Tell ya what, go ahead and pack up. I'll be right back.
In the meantime, I walk over to my friendly stranger and introduce myself.
ME: Hi. I'm Rachel. What's your name?
IRIS: I’m Iris
ME: Hi Iris, I was wondering if you could help me out? See that guy over there?
IRIS: Yeah, I saw him too.
ME: Would you mind helping me walk Danny to his car?
Without any hesitation, Iris says, “Let's do it!”
As we set off into the dark walking Danny and his guitar to safety, we find out Iris is a yoga instructor. She had just come from work when she saw Danny playing on the corner.
I asked her, “What made you stop?”
IRIS: The last couple of days it's been hard. I've been asking myself lately, "What am I seeking?" And the word "connection" came up. So when I saw Danny playing and you standing there listening, I decided to stay. To connect.
CONNECTION. This revelation STRIKES my heart DEEPLY.
The world feels completely disconnected - myself included.
Nothing that is going on in the world makes any sense - except this very moment. Three strangers coming together, seeking comfort and finding refuge by helping one another.
We drop off Danny's equipment to his car. And as a gentleman, he walks us to the next major street and into the light.
DANNY: “Your help meant a lot to me. Thank you so much ladies. Can I at least buy you dinner?”
Both Iris and I respond, ”It feels good to help a neighbor. Your music tonight was our gift.”
We all hug and continue to our next destinations.
DANNY - seeking another busy corner to share his beautiful music - without threat of being mugged.
IRIS - seeking to rest her tired body after work.
And ME - seeking food for my belly after 9 hours.
Life can be scary, but we must also never forget that there is love in the world.
And Time After Time love will find you, even in the kindness of strangers.
With Love, Us
UPDATE: The video I’ve attached is one I took after I bumped into Danny for the first time, nearly a year after I wrote this story! Enjoy!