Mundane and expected – parents approach the bittersweet final weekend of summer wanting to make sure the summer beach toys are put away, sleep schedules are being wound back and calculators are purchased in anticipation for what will be just another regular school year. And it isn’t just the parents who are focused on the fast approaching school year. Our kids are already lusting after the latest tech gadgets and gear, discussing dorm decor and obsessing over the outfit they will wear for their first day of school.
Well, most kids.
Today I met a young man who is not thinking about these things. His name is Nick. And because of random circumstances that most of us would take for granted, or ignore altogether, meeting him ended up being one of the most transformative experiences of my life.
Nick likes to read. He always has a book with him and recently plowed through the entire Harry Potter series – again. It was his favorite series from when he was my son’s age. Nick is now just 21, but still looks like he could be 16. He has a sweet smile, which softened the effect of a not too large tattoo on his left forearm, and even larger and unhealed holes from the gauges and plugs that he used to wear in his earlobes, I’m guessing.
Nick wolfed down his french onion soup but is allergic to many vegetables so removed the lettuce, tomato and onion off of his turkey and cheddar on focaccia sandwich that I had bought for him.
I had never met Nick before so it may seem odd that I decided to buy him lunch. But he had gone unnoticed by most of the passerby’s who walked between Barnes and Noble and Atlanta Bread Co. Maybe he had approached others, but his almost embarrassed sounding, soft spoken voice and direct look into my face made me pause.
“Excuse me Ma’am. Could you spare a dollar so I could get something to eat for breakfast?”
Without hesitating I replied:
It was already past noon.
“I don’t have any cash on me, but I have my credit card and was just about to get my son something to eat. Why don’t you come with us and I’ll buy you something to eat?”
He hadn’t expected my response. I could tell. He paused for a moment and his puppy dog brown eyes widened a bit.
“Really? That’s incredibly nice of you.”
Wow, soft spoken but articulate. Looks me directly in the eyes – hand touches his heart when he said it . . .
I couldn’t stop my brain from trying to process who this young man and how it was he could be standing in front of me like this. He looked so NORMAL. He was just a kid really. He was somebody’s baby.
Only his nails were in desperate need of a good scrubbing and his dockers had a small hole on the right leg. Clearly all of his earthly possessions were shoved into two black duffle bags which he perched atop a scooter and dragged alongside of himself.
Once inside the restaurant Nick perched his makeshift roller suitcase next to the trash can taking the seat at the edge of the adjacent booth.
“What kind of sandwiches do you like?”
“Really, a cup of soup would be great. You don’t have to . . .”
“No way I am letting you wander around with only a cup of soup in your stomach. What kind of sandwich do you like to eat?”
“Ummm…” His eyes turned downcast.
“Anything meaty and cheesy would be great.”
Again a nervous and slightly shy smile.
I left my son at another table to peruse the bag of goodies we had just purchased from Barnes and Noble. In it was a new Neil Gaiman novel, a book light (an indulgence for my son who said buying it would encourage his reading the novel), a 16 month Goats in Trees calendar. For my daughter – a lovely brocade patterned school organizer and a small Dr. Who themed birthday gift for my step-son.
Glancing over at Nick, I explained the situation to the cashier and asked to speak to the manager. Maybe he could donate some additional food or gift certificates for this young man. It was worth a shot and lucky for me, the manager, Michael Pizzolongo, was more than happy to oblige – loading up a small plate with a huge cookie and danish.
“You’re doing a really kind thing.”
“I just can’t stand the thought of this child being hungry. He could be my son . . . he’s someone’s baby. It just breaks my heart.”
As we waited for our food, I walked back to Nick and asked if he’d like to sit and eat with us?
“Really? Sure. That would be great.”
When was the last time someone was nice to this kid? Offered him food? Talked to him like a human being? With dizzying speed, the questions competed for space in my still shocked brain.
Without wanting to push, intrude or offend, I asked him what was going on with him these days?
Not skipping a beat and no longer appearing as embarrassed, Nick opened up, sharing bits and pieces of his story.
His father was not the kindest man on the planet and his mother, too afraid to stand up to him, had essentially allowed his Dad to keep him out of their home. Nick lived in White Plains since he was two, graduated from high school but had no money for college. He hadn’t been allowed in the home for going on three years now.
His cell phone requires a $50 a month payment and though he was able to make this happen off and on based on odd jobs he scrambled to get – his minutes had just run out so until the Indian restaurant that he just started working for gave him his first paycheck and his food stamps came in (which he sometimes was able to trade for cash) he wouldn’t be able to be in touch with the outside world or give a phone number to potential employers.
His money had been lost – stolen really – by the last round of pseudo-landlords.
I learned that there had been a man who had a room he had planned to move into from a recent place that he, thank God, had been able to secure during the winter months. Turning over the cashed out bonds that he had been saving since childhood, his last $1,000 was handed over as a deposit for a new place to live.
“I was going back to my other place and asked for my security deposit back. But the man said no. I had no lease or receipts so I can’t prove I even lived there.”
He stated it so simply and not even with tremendous anger or resentment, which I know I sure as shooting would have been feeling.
“So I went back to the other man and told him I couldn’t come up with the rest of the money. I asked for my $1,000 back and he said no. I had to either come up with the rest and move in or get lost.”
But this time it was worse. The guy was a fake. He had shown Nick some room, but his number ended up being a pre-paid cell phone and Nick had no real name to track him, no way to reach him. Nothing. He just disappeared with the last money Nick had on this earth.
“I spoke to a lawyer about the first place and getting my security deposit, but he said without a receipt, or a lease, I had no way to prove I had even lived there.”
Not wanting to cry in front of Nick or my son. I managed to ask the last burning question I had.
“So where are you sleeping right now?”
“In a stairwell not far from here. When the guys come at 7am to sweep it out, they just wake me up and tell me I have to go now. They don’t call the cops or anything since they know me by now. And that’s if the weather is bad. When it’s nice outside, I really just like sleeping on the little patch of grass by the Starbucks.”
He was talking about the Starbucks right across the street, on the main drag in this section of White Plains – Mamaroneck Ave.
“I don’t mind. And once I can get enough money together again I’ll find something. I’m also looking into something I heard about called JobCore. I heard it lets you get through college, educates you in two trades and even gives you a place to live.”
Nick told me he had considered the marines but decided the Peace Corp. would be a better fit.
Over lunch we discussed the sad state of affairs that the world didn’t see more clearly how Hamas uses their children as shields and launches rockets from within densely populated civilian areas like schools, homes and hospitals. We talked about Indigo children (which he clearly is) and how he doesn’t really care about where he works – just that he would like to make a positive difference in the world.
It was then I picked up the phone and left a message for my dear friend and sister goddess, Danielle Butin, founder of AFYA Foundation. If anyone can find a place or connection for this kid, she can.
“Hey, you’re a really great lady.” Heading out for his break, the other cashier having clearly heard my earlier conversation wanted to make sure I knew he thought I was some kind of super nice person for doing what I did.
Was it really so extraordinary? I hoped not. Because that would mean Nick was mostly an anonymous entity, wandering the streets alone and too often hungry.
“We’re all just people. We’re supposed to take care of each other. But thank you.”
As Nick, my son and I resumed our chat, the manager, Michael, came over to our table. After handing him two cards worth two free lunches, and shaking Nick’s hand, he handed me his business card.
“I am starting a new website page which is all about doing random acts of kindness. My website is called LiveTheGoal.com. It’s an honor to meet you both.”
And there it was. The final bit of synergy from an afternoon of magical connection.
Was Nick an earth angel? Was he an Indigo who incarnated to teach compassion by using himself as the example to elicit such a response? Was he just a reminder to be thankful for our most mundane blessings?
Was he a clarion call to wake up – be aware and be present?
I don’t know why Nick picked me and my son to approach today. I don’t need to know. I am just so incredibly grateful that he did.
After Nick thanked me and my son again, we shook hands. Nick has my card and once he gets his phone back on I am sure he will reach out. And if not, I know where he sleeps . . .
He may have walked away but I won’t let him disappear into the streets again. If this story moved you even a little bit, help Nick not go unseen and uncared for ever again. Please consider making a contribution to Fund for Nick – a campaign I just started for him on Fundrazr.