I looked up from watching Gertie, my old black-and-white dog, sniff a garbage bag. A middle-aged man stood there, holding something out toward me. My eyes adjusted to the distance and realized that he was holding a perfect white carnation in his hand. He smiled kindly. I took the flower and thanked him, and he wished me a good night as he walked away down the street darkened with the New York City night.
Minutes earlier, I’d been walking Gertie and seen two men, this man included, walking toward an apartment building. The man who’d gifted me the flower was holding an enormous bouquet of a variety of white flowers. Did someone die? I thought, and I smiled and nodded as the men passed. “How are ya?” One of them asked. “Great, you?” “Good.” They walked on, entering an apartment building and leaving my sight.
When I returned to my apartment I took one of the empty bottles of wine my roommate, Mira, and I have been saving (because they’re lovely). I filled the bottle with water, and placed the carnation in the water. I realized that despite my worry about moving to the city, my general anxiety about the many men, with paper bags disguising half-empty bottles of booze, sitting and standing by the sidewalk curbs and sometimes whistling or cat-calling… all of this diminishes in comparison to the kindnesses people have shown me in my first two weeks here.
It is something easy to forget ~ the power of kindness. Only a moment of kindness, of openness, can completely alter someone’s understanding of life’s meaning and worth. It is difficult to describe the moment when that man gave me the flower. I was afraid because it was late at night; I had tried to quiet Gertie, but she needed to go outside. I was afraid of what could happen, of the stories I’d been told of what happens in NYC late at night, with only men outside (many of whom are not sober). This mindset of fear closed my mind to other people around me, and made my expectations for other people shallow. But a moment of stillness, when a stranger plucked a flower from a delivered bouquet for the simple, sole purpose of handing it to me, changed my entire mindscape.
I accepted the flower quickly, still afraid of the purpose behind the gift. I thanked him, yet avoided eye contact. I was walking away before I realized I was safe, that his gift was as simple as it was. I hope that man knows the power of his gesture.