I used to work an early shift that began at 6:00 in the morning. The good part is I finished at 2:00 but the bad part is I was up every morning before the sun.
Each day I’d arrive at the building about an hour before my start time because the trains only ran at certain hours.
This was okay because I’d start my day slowly, drink a little coffee, read some, write some, or watch the news some.
Each day, I’d see the same people on the train. None of them were happy to be where they were. No one was happy to be awake.
Sometimes there would be the dirty stay-outs from the night before, still drunk, on the train, and talking louder than they should be. Sometimes a passenger on the morning train would think it was a good idea to be on their cell phone and talk loudly while the rest of the passengers tried to sleep.
I’d see the newspapers delivered in bundles to the newsstands in the city as I walked from 34th Street over to Grand Central Station.
I’d see the same moping faces do the same sad things. But this is life. This is the repetition of working for a living. And to be honest, I get it.
My shift was the start-up shift. I was the start-up engineer at the time, which meant that I had to be sure all building equipment was on line at start-up. I started all the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems throughout a building in Midtown with a little more than 1.5 million sq. ft. of commercial real estate under my responsibility.
Each morning, I saw a man come to work around the same time as myself. He was a kind man, though he seldom spoke. He never complained and he never explained. He just came to work, each day, did his job, and pushed through.
I would always make it a point to hold the door for him and say hello. I would see him, especially during the winter because the northeast fan on his floor always needed my attention before starting.
I’d see this man in the mail room, moving boxes, setting up paper—basically doing whatever his job description was without complaint.
He had it rough. This is for sure. But no matter how rough it was, again, I say he never complained and he never explained.
He just did his job.
He was inspiring to me. Not because he did his work. I do my work too.
He inspired me because no matter what the challenge was, this man never flinched.
He rarely spoke though. And to be honest, I never said much more than a pleasant good morning, with a big smile when I’d see him.
In fact, no matter how badly I might have felt about things or even if something was pulling at my personal strings, or if I was pissed, or unhappy, depressed, or what have you, —I always made sure to hold the door open for my friend with a smile because he was a good man.
He showed me that I needed to change my perspective. He taught me that I need to be happier with what I have. He showed me that I need to be grateful that I have a job. Or more plainly, that I have the ability to walk or speak plainly. See, my friend had Cerebral palsy. Little tasks for me were not so little for him. The biggest task for most is to be in time. This man achieved this every day, no matter what his challenge was.
One morning, one of the security guards on the 10th floor asked why I was always so nice to this man.
I asked the guard, “Did you ever hear the saying, whatever you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto me?”
Then I pointed to my friend from the mail room.
“That man there is far from the least.”
I am mainly a peaceful man. In fairness, violence scares me because of past experiences; however, this does not mean I back down, nor does it mean I do not get a little excited every once in a while.
This time was one of those times. I leaned in very closely. I explained myself with grinding teeth. I sort of growled (if I’m being honest) because I wanted to state my opinion in the clearest way possible.
I explained that man was my friend. And I do not like when people are disrespectful to my friends. And I do not like bullies, which is why I offered my time to the security guard to go someplace off-camera to settle this dispute.
Instead, the guard offered to take back his remark and apologize.
There is a man that works on the 27th Floor in my building. I see him every morning. He is nothing short of extraordinary. He has his needs, but yet, he comes to work every morning. He never complains and never explains. He is my friend.
I learned that someone in his household takes his money away. I learned this and since I cannot stop it, I decided that his breakfast and lunch is always free at the Market Café, which is across from our building.
And why do I do this?
It’s because this is what people are supposed to do —just be kind to one another. I do this because I want to.
I do this because I literally believe I have to. I do this because whatever you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto me.
I do this because I don’t like the ugliness I see in the world. I don’t like the bully I used to be. And I do this to say I’m sorry for who I was.
I’m not sorry about the challenges people have. No, I’m sorry that I am not as strong or as beautiful as my friends from the 10th and 27th floor.
I do this because I want to be more like them, happy to be, happy to do, grateful for what I have, and no matter what comes my way, I want to be able to never complain and never explain and learn the secret of their endurance .
I ever tell you about the blackout we had in NYC years ago? I piggy back an angry woman down the stairs because she could not walk. She was overweight and unkind. I never liked her very much.
The bitch of it was she worked on the 35th floor, which meant it was a long way down.
In fairness, I was scared. I was unsure why the entire city lost power. I thought maybe it was another attack, and since I saw what I saw on 9/11, I knew that now was not the time for my personal opinion of people.
I ever tell you about the time I pulled a gun on a man when I was a kid?
I ever tell you about the purse I snatched? I ever tell you about the people I hurt in my life or the houses I robbed? I ever tell you how this was my reaction to my own pain and suffering?
I know what it’s like to feel weak or be bullied or less than. I guess, as I see it, there is no feeling worse than feeling worthless or incapable.
So, I suppose I do what I do so I never see anyone feel the way I did. And it doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad because whatever you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto me . . . remember?
I guess I just want to see a better world.
One good deed at a time.