When I was a child, I was left alone during the summer months, when school was out, as both my parents worked. I was constantly looking for ways to fill my time. My neighborhood mailman was quite friendly, and it seemed to me he had the most interesting job in the world, so I decided to befriend him and help him deliver his mail – every day. (Lucky him!) We became fast friends, and it was he who gave me one of my most cherished possessions, one that reminds me of the enormous human capacity for kindness.
Charlie was friendly to every adult and child in the university student housing complex in which I lived, but he seemed to have a particularly soft spot for those of us who were lonely and without means. He tolerated my daily “tagging along” because he genuinely cared what happened to me, and I think he worried about me being left alone so much. He frequently shared little things – dessert from his lunch or an ice-cream cone on hot days – but on Easter one year, he decided to do something a little more special. He purchased a lapel pin for me from one of the local bookstores. It was a little blue bunny, so tiny you could hardly see it pinned to my shirt, but I thought it was the most beautiful trinket in the world. It was precious to me because it came from Charlie, and it signified that I was truly his companion, that I was accepted.
Over the course of the nearly four years I lived in this neighborhood, I continued to walk with Charlie on his daily route, and I grew to know him and his family quite well. He and his wife invited several of us neighborhood children over for dinner on occasion and even hosted birthday parties for some. One year, Charlie went so far as to pay for my enrollment into summer camp. He was a kind soul who cared deeply for his community, and everyone respected him for this.
I lost track of Charlie over the years. I grew and moved away. But I will never forget the sense of community he brought to our neighborhood and the way he made us all feel significant and cared for. When I look at the pin I have kept in my jewelry box for all these years now, I remember his gentle way and his welcoming manner, and it convinces me that people have the capacity to do wonderful things. It convinces me that I have that capacity, and it spurs me to try every day.