one in a hundred

You can learn a lot from the riding the subway. Today’s lesson was one of perseverance.

I was riding the downtown F train on the way back from a morning run in Central Park when a homeless man entered the subway car, rattling a tin can filled with change  as if it was a maraca. “I don’t mean to be a bother, but I’m hoping you can spare a couple of dollars or a dollar or some change,” he said. His plea provoked the man sitting directly across from me to reach into his pocket and pull out a quarter. We were both surprised when the donation was met with an ungrateful, “Is that it?” Through raised eyebrows, we communicated unsaid acknowledgement of the fact that the man tried to do a nice deed, but his gesture wasn’t appreciated in the way he expected.

A minute of silence passed. Then the man across from me said, “You know, this is the second time. I try to do something nice and they want more. I don’t know why I bother.” He was a city bus driver who ran the Bx7 bus route Sunday night. He told me that as he was driving along Broadway he saw a girl waving her arms to flag him down. Because of safety rules, he wasn’t supposed to pick her up from an undesignated stop, but it was after midnight and he decided to pull over anyway. “You know the odds of that happening? You could flag a bus down, chase a bus 100 times in this city and you’d be lucky if anybody stopped once for you!”

Far from saying thank you, the girl refused to pay the fare, stating that she had wanted to take the 1 train, which was out of service after midnight due to construction. It sounded like the girl and the bus driver went back and forth, and that in the end she never did pay the fare. “The thing is,” the bus driver said, “if she would have told me she didn’t have any money, I would have let her ride for free. No problem. But as soon as she got on the bus she started arguing with me, blaming me for the train. It really got under my skin. Didn’t she know how lucky she was I even picked her up at all? Her chances were one in 100!”

I tried my best to convince him not to give up on people.  It’s much better to do something nice and thankless than to wonder what could have happened to that girl who was out on the street alone after midnight. And hopefully later, after her frustration wore off from not being able to take the 1 train, she may have realized how very fortunate she was that the Bx7 bus stopped at all.

The idiom is “Give an inch and they’ll take a mile.” Make a small concession and you set yourself up for someone to take advantage of you. But what a terrible way to view the world! Small acts of kindness may not always get “thank yous” or even get noticed, but they are worth it. Every time. I believe it was a Taoist philosopher who said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s small acts of kindness that will make the world a better place.

Eleven stops later at Jay Street, the bus driver was convinced. “Ok, ok,” he said. “I’ll keep doing my thing. I’ll keep doing my thing.”

Thank you, and be kind.

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