For the years that we shared a school, I would see Amy walking down the hall and I would turn away. I wouldn’t make eye contact. I would ignore her. We would ignore each other. Life went on. It went on until the summer before my senior year when Amy, Amy’s boyfriend, and Amy’s mother died in a terrible fire in that apartment in my old neighborhood. She was sixteen. She had no chance to escape. Their tiny basement apartment turned into an inferno and no one made it out alive. In the instant that I heard the news, my life was changed forever. I was ambushed with regret and horror of how I treated Amy. The “shoulda-coulda-wouldas” flooded my mind and consumed me. My heart had deepened with a combination of sadness and desperation to make all things right. From that day forward, I vowed to be kind and to never let another person enter my life without knowing that I treated them the best that I could.
Flash forward ten years to the now. Every person who reaches out to me is Amy. Every friend I have is Amy. Every homeless person on the street is Amy. This has been both a blessing and a curse, really –one that I didn’t acknowledge until recently. Sometimes people in need make it easy to give. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I want to be selfish. Sometimes I don’t always want to be kind. Sometimes I don’t always want to do the right thing for someone else. That is when I see her. That is when I remember her. That is when I think about how I wasn’t a good friend to her….not even a little bit….not even at all. I can’t go back and change the way that I treated Amy. I can’t go back to the afternoon in July of 2002 and pull her out of that fire or give her back her life, but I can say she forever changed mine.
I write about this now, because of something that occurred the other day. I was out shopping with a friend and a man approached us in the parking lot asking for money. My friend ignored him and kept walking. I stopped and listen to his story about how he needed money to eat and had nothing. I took my wallet out. I apologized to the man because I never carry cash and all I had on me was a few dollar bills. I gave the man what I had and he thanked me and I went about my business. Once we got into her car my friend was baffled. “Weren’t you worried about your safety? He is probably going to buy drugs! What if he tried to mug you?” All were very valid concerns that I thought about during our brief encounter. “Why did you give him money?” she wanted to know. ‘You didn’t even hesitate. You didn’t even think about it!” and that was the very first time it occurred to me. After all these years of trying to help people, of reaching out, of giving money (even when I really shouldn’t)….it never connected with me until I was asked right then and there “why?” That was when I talked about Amy. How, I would never again regret the way I treated someone. I would always help in every little way that I possibly could. Amy made all the difference.
Some people are just born with a giving heart. My father is one of them. I will never forget the day he handed over his beloved 1989 Chevy Caprice to another family who had lost their vehicle. He just gave his car away, because another person needed it more. He didn’t expect anything from it, didn’t even want to talk about it. He just did it because it was the right thing to do. No questions asked. Miracles like this happen. More miracles like this need to happen every day. In an era when we fear strangers, when we fear sending our children to school, an era in which cruelty to one another is not only expected but often encouraged, maybe we just all need to step back and look at the Amys in our lives. Maybe we just need to take a look at the people placed in our lives and evaluate why they are here. Evaluate how you treat people. Evaluate your daily interactions with the public, with strangers. Is it time to start being kind? Is it time to start giving what you can or helping your neighbor? Is it time to start truly being a good friend? Let my hard learned lesson seep into your life and into your soul. May it wake you up on some level! Set a daily goal to offer kindness (in any form) to a stranger or to a neighbor, or to a friend. That is truly living. That is truly being.