On a recent evening I came across in my Facebook feed a story about Jennifer Aniston. It told how she helped a young panhandling teen she saw, hungry, sobbing, and holding a baby. She bought her a meal as well as some groceries, including formula for the baby. She drew out her circumstances and found out that she didn’t think she could go home because her parents wouldn’t want her; the girl had stolen $5,000 in cash from them. She’d been gone a year.
Eventually, as the story went, Aniston convinced her to call her mother and then helped facilitate a reunion by buying her a bus ticket. The story ended by saying the girl is now 21 and she gets a Christmas card from her every year. This hashtag was on the bottom: #SpreadPositivityInTheWorld.
Tears rolled down my cheeks. I shared it on Facebook with this:
Damn, it might be the first time I feel REALLY good about my “Friends” habit.
By the time I woke up the next morning, a friend had written to say the story was a fake. Well, actually, the story was true but it wasn’t Aniston (who apparently doesn’t dabble in social media). In the meantime, the Facebook page previously known as “Jennifer Aniston” suddenly became “Jennifer Aniston Fans.”
I rolled my eyes and moved on, not wanting to think too deeply about who thought that whole maneuver was a good idea. Plus, it was Veterans Day and social media was filled with uplifting photos and sentiments about loved ones who had served or are serving.
I went about my day, which included an afternoon dental cleaning and checkup in New York City. As I walked on 33rd Street at the base of the Empire State Building, I saw walking toward me a disheveled man with a duffel bag over one shoulder and a big grocery bag filled with boxes of cereal. I know this because right at my feet the bag split open and all the unopened boxes came tumbling out. Fruit Loops. Cocoa Puffs. Cheerios.
I stopped to help him, but was in my “hurry” mode because I was en route to an appointment. I told him I wished I had an extra bag I could give him.
“Can you put the cereal in your duffel bag?” I asked. Still, I was only partly engaging him. My body was pointed to my destination.
“I want to keep it separate and clean,” he said. “A woman just gave these to me.”
I paused. We were near a Subway sandwich shop.
“Could you watch my bag and the cereal while I go ask for a bag at Subway?” he said.
I hesitated. Foreboding thoughts coursed through my mind. Anybody who was in New York on 9/11 and the days following knows the rules all too well. Never, ever agree to watch anyone’s luggage. Never. But that Aniston-or-whoever story was still floating through my head. Go out of your way, Nancy. This is a fellow human.
My gut ruled and I nodded at him. I’m not going to lie. I was nervous when he walked away. We were at the foot of one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, for goodness sake. Me and a stranger’s big duffel bag. As I stood there, people gawked as they went by, looking at me and then the cereal.
“No bags,” he said when he came out of Subway moments later. I wondered if they just didn’t want to give them to him.
I looked around. We were directly across the street from Jack Demsey’s Restaurant and Bar.
“How about I go ask at that place?” I said, pointing.
He smiled and thanked me profusely. I walked over and explained the situation to a man standing out front. He went inside and emerged with a few bags. I expressed my gratitude and told him I might have to come back for a drink after my dental appointment.
I crossed the street, gave the man the bags and a little cash, basked in his smile for a moment, and went on my way. When I got to Fifth Avenue, I had to wait for a break in the Veterans Day parade to cross the street. It was so festive.
After a teeth cleaning that made me feel like I was being raked over hot coals, I rewarded myself with a coffee drink back at Jack Demsey’s bar. Next to me, a young man was picking up the drink tab for two older veterans next to him. I talked to the bartender about how only Irish places know how to make this drink properly, with the foamy cream atop Kahlua and coffee.
As I sat there, I felt happy to not have dwelled on the fake part of a heartwarming story, but to have absorbed the true part and put the feeling into action so quickly.