by Jeanette Johnson
Londonderry, New Hampshire, USA
Christmas 1979, when I was 19, my Mom and I went into Boston to do some shopping. As we walked down the street, we noticed an elderly lady, leaning against a building, softly weeping. People were taking a quick look at her and continuing on, and I am ashamed to admit I was ready to do the same. But not my Mom.
“What’s wrong dear?”, Mom asked. She seemed hesitant to speak to us at first, but mother’s kind voice let her know she had nothing to fear. She explained that she had been at Mass. When she kneeled to pray, she left her purse on the pew, and when she stood back up it was gone. She had walked down to the downtown shopping area in hopes of seeing someone she knew, but after almost an hour she had not seen a familiar face.
“It’s freezing out here, let’s get you some tea,” said my Mom. We bought her some tea and a pastry, and she explained that she took the subway from home just outside Boston each day to go to Mass. Mom listened, I mean really listened, to the lady. Then she explained, as gently as she could, that the world was a different place than it was years ago, and one just had to be cautious, especially when going somewhere alone. She kept talking to the lady until she had finished her tea and Mom was sure that she was calmed down and no longer scared.
My mother said that she would get a cab to take her home, but the woman wouldn’t hear of it. “Please,” she said, “I take the subway every day, I am very used to it. You have been too kind already.” But Mom did not just give her a quarter and send her on her way. We took her down to the station and waited for the train with her. As it pulled up, Mom squeezed a five-dollar bill into the lady’s hand and put her on the train.
We walked back up the stairs to continue with our Christmas shopping. “That was nice, Mom,” was all I could manage to say without crying. “Thanks” was all she said.
She could have gone on and on about what a rotten world this is when elderly ladies get their purses stolen at church, and how people need to help one another, but she didn’t. She knew the lesson was learned, and no preaching was necessary. After telling my Dad about what happened, we never really talked about it again. She was wise enough to know that I would carry what I learned that day for a long time.
This whole episode took less than a half-hour out of my life, but 20 years later, I remember it like it was yesterday. The wonderful example she quietly set that day has stayed with me, and has affected my actions on many occasions. On that day, she made me a better person.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.