We see a lot of random acts of kindness in the work we do with older adults, a gentle touch, a hand being held, someone bending close and listening patiently to a story they may have heard many times. We see it in someone who stops in the hall to help with directions or pick up an item that has slipped to the floor or even the many staff who attend funerals of those elders they cared for and loved. Kindness, caring, compassion are all simple things that can change the course of someone’s day or experience. But, in some cases, acts of kindness are not simple or uncomplicated at all. In fact, they involve courage and risk and change not only the course of someone’s day, but someone’s life.
In recent weeks, we had an example of this kind of extraordinary act within our own family of management staff. One of our team has a 25 year old son, working now in New York City. Heading to his job one morning, minding his own business, he saw a group of three people standing and looking at him, giving him an uneasy feeling. The woman in the trio approached him and began talking to him and, although he kept walking, the two men attacked him and knocked him to the ground. Their objective—to steal his sneakers, his one indulgence as a memento of his years as a basketball player.
One of the men had a knife and slashed this young man from his ear to his mouth and the situation was rapidly escalating when something remarkable happened. A taxi driver observed the attack, began sitting on his horn and turning his car towards the scuffle. The perpetrators took off at a run and the taxi driver leapt from his vehicle and helped this young man into his car.
The driver insisted on taking the young man directly to the hospital. He called the police while en route and they met them at the hospital. The descriptions that both of them were able to give enabled the police to arrest this trio before they could inflict harm on anyone else. Yet this taxi driver, who just happened upon the scene, did not stop there. He stayed in the Emergency Room with this young man, waiting without complaint, until his family arrived.
When the story was shared with the young man’s family, they were profoundly touched and grateful. They offered to pay him for his time, he’d given up a large piece of his workday in service of a stranger. He refused repeatedly and told them with a smile that he was glad he was there and that “there are still good people left in this world.”
I know that all of us who heard this story from the young man’s parent have been unable to get it out of our minds. It’s an act of physical courage, an act of emotional courage and an act of kindness that, in all likelihood, prevented a tragedy. The young man’s cut was superficial and will heal although his sense of safety and youthful invincibility may take far longer to mend. And the lessons that this taxi driver have taught him and all of us—about what really matters, about the good people left in the world—will endure forever.