He stood before me pleading for help. He looked just a few years older than I was at the time, and truly frightened. “If I don’t get the key and get back there immediately, the clothing will be gone and I will be dead.”
I had arrived in New York City 10 days earlier and was amazingly in the exact right place to help this poor young man who was in a situation that could have just as easily have happened to me. I had just finished my first week at my new job in the fashion district when I happened to meet Seth coming into the building as I was walking out.
As I came out onto the sidewalk, Seth stopped dead in his tracks in front of me and gasped “OH NO!” as he patted then crammed his hand into every pocket in his clothing. I caught his eyes and gave a polite smile and nod, and turned to head for the train. “ohno, OhNo, OH No, OH NO!!!” his voice raised in pitch until I could hear it almost crack under the threat of tears.
My Midwest kicked in. I turned, “Are you ok?”
Three minutes later I had learned that through an amazingly complicated set of circumstances, Seth had left a rack of one-of-a-kind designer garments sitting in the lobby of a building uptown because he was new on the job and had left the key to the studio downtown in the office. He had raced down to collect the key only to discover that, in his rush, he had left his wallet in the cab, and now had no way of getting back uptown to rescue the garments.
(You know where this is going, right…?)
“Gosh, that is terrible, don’t cry, it’s going to be ok, I can help you.” all came rushing out as I tried to comfort this distraught young man.
“You can?” wiping his eyes.
“Well I just got paid. $40 is all I have, but I could lend you the money.”
“Oh my goodness, you are an angel, and I will totally pay you back – here give me your address and phone number so I can stop by tonight and bring you the money.”
He is off up the street to catch a cab and save his garments and his job. I am off to the train station feeling warm and fuzzy and excited by my first “NYC Story”.
(You’ve guessed the end of that story, haven’t you? You can almost hear the wheels of the turnip truck pulling away…)
My roommate set me straight as soon as I got home, but I held out hope. For about a month.
I spent the next three years angry at “Seth”. Three years. Didn’t he know that I had nothing? That I was struggling to survive? That I had to choose between a can of beans and a tube of toothpaste at the grocery that week? (toothpaste, of course.) How could someone be so cruel?
I was on a bus one afternoon scanning the streets, as usual, for “Seth” as I rode through Chelsea, when something amazing happened. I felt sorry for him. I thought about my last three years in the city – my adventures, my new friends, my happy life – and I forgave him.
And in that split second I was free.
Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. Let go of the anger and hurt, and you will release yourself into a better future. I may have lost $40, but from that moment on I did not donate one more minute of my life to Seth.
Several years later I was rushing down 17th street to meet up with friends for happy hour, when I almost knocked him over. He was standing in front of one of the fashion design buildings patting his pockets and crying “Oh NO! oh NO!”
I stopped and looked into his eyes. Really looked. I wondered if I would see recognition, but all I saw was emptiness, sadness, and loneliness. I let him get about one quarter of the way through his story, before I held up my hand and smiled peacefully.
“You got me six years ago. I gave you all the money I had when I first moved here. I forgave you, but you are STILL doing this? Please go find something to do to help people instead!” Momentarily stunned his mouth hung open, before he sprinted off down the street like his one-of-a-kind designer pants were on fire.