The subway doors parted, and I quickly entered. I snagged a seat against a window before melting into a puddle of tears. I was fighting with my boyfriend and struggling through law school. Like many times when something distressing happens in our lives, I allowed my walls to come tumbling down. With my head lowered, I secluded myself in my grief, descending into a world surrounded by nothing but my own silent sobs. When you live in NYC, you quickly learn how to steal a little space for yourself even when you are surrounded by people.
The train came to a stop and a mass of people entered and exited. I didn’t even have the heart to people watch. Frankly, I was just trying to disappear for a moment. I heard a tap on the window. Looking up, I saw the smiling face of a young woman. She held a small scrap of paper against the window. Scrawled across it was written, “you are loved.” As tears welled in my eyes again, she gave a little smile and stepped back from the train. The subway zoomed out of the station.
With those three little words, I was changed. I was moved by the kindness of a stranger. She didn’t know me or owe me anything, even her attention. It didn’t really matter what the paper said. It was the thoughtfulness in the action. I will never forget that moment and that small act of kindness. It cost her nothing but a moment of compassion for a girl, overwhelmed by life, sitting across the train from her. That small gesture moved me beyond words. She will never know the impact she had on me that day.
It is easy to underestimate the power behind even the smallest of gestures. We have no idea the struggles another person may be facing. Sometimes merely acknowledging the presence of an individual can make them feel seen in a world that feels lonely and desolate. Compliment people. Practice small acts of kindness throughout your day. You never know whose life you might be changing, but it will surely give back a lot more than it costs.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou