Last month, my godfather, Uncle Nick, passed away after a long battle with numerous health problems. He was one of the best people I know. He meant the world to my family, and we miss him so very much.
Uncle Nick was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back, whether he knew you or not…and then he’d pour you a glass of his homemade wine, feed you a dinner big enough for a whole army, and probably repair something in your house. He had so many wonderful qualities and talents, but the best one, in my opinion, was the absolute kindness and friendliness he exuded every day of his life. That is what I remember most about him, and that is what I try to emulate in my own life.
So, in honor of a wonderful human being, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about the wonderful people I meet every day in NYC. New Yorkers get a bad rap, and it annoys me to no end. Of course in a population of millions there are sure to be some bad apples. But in my experience, there are many more nice people walking past you on the street, than there are bad ones. In this town, the areas you live in and frequent become your community. People greet one another with “good morning” and ask about each others’ families. They look out for one another.
My first experience with nice New Yorkers was my breakfast cart guy at NYU, during my freshman year of college. He knew I was going to order a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese and a cup of tea, and every morning he gave me a warning about burning my tongue on the tea: “wait a minute to drink this, sweetheart, it’s really hot. And for you, only a dollar for everything.”
Since that first experience, I’ve met so many friendly food folks around the city: in Harlem, at Miss Maude’s, my friend Damion had food ready for me every Wednesday night. He’d sit and chat with me while I ate dinner. At my favorite Mexican Place, Tajin, the proprietor knows my order and even corrected Agent Owens when he tried to order me the wrong meal once. The halal cart guy near my Battery Park apartment used to commiserate with his regulars about rising rent costs.
But foodies aren’t the only nice guys ‘round these parts (like that rural talk?). Last month, after Uncle Nick died, a woman saw me crying on the subway (I mentioned I was a mess that month, didn’t I?), and she came over to offer me tissues and ask if I was ok. And a few days later, on a different subway car, my boss’s AMEX credit card was returned to him by a fellow straphanger after it fell out of his pocket.
One good citizen actually took things a step further when I used to work near Penn Station. In a super crowded area of town, my driver’s license fell out of my wallet, and I actually didn’t notice until a few days later. Before I even had time to get to the DMV for a replacement, my ID showed up in my mailbox. A kindhearted lawyer (apparently that’s not an oxymoron) took the time to mail it back to me. Similarly, a taxi driver once returned my dorm keys and school ID to the nearest NYU building, where I was later able to retrieve them.
Small, random acts of kindness happen all over this city every single day. You may not notice them if you’re busy looking at skyscrapers on a quick trip through town. But if you live here, take a look around. You’ll see young men helping old women cross the street. You’ll see someone help a blind stranger to maneuver through a subway station. Someone will carry a stoller up a set of stairs for a young mom or give up their seat on the subway for a pregnant woman. A delivery man will stop and ask you if you need help finding where you’re going, as you stand on a street corner trying to orient yourself. And those drowsy folks you pass by on your morning commute will stop to say hello, if you just share a smile with them.
So, I’m asking for this: this week, in memory of my Uncle Nick, and in the spirit of infusing a bit of good in the world, do something nice for another person. It doesn’t have to be anything big or showy – just something to make another person’s day a little brighter. Show folks that New Yorkers are big-hearted people. That we’re considerate and conscientious people. It would have been Uncle Nick’s birthday this past week, and I think he’d consider it a nice gift to know that a group of people (many of whom he never even met) passed along the kindness he always displayed. What a nice legacy to leave behind.
Images: Rebecca for Happy City Living