52: Warmth on a Winter’s Day

52: Warmth on a Winter’s Day

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Christmas Miracles

Warmth on a Winter’s Day

Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.

~Buddha

I was the assistant director of a local social service agency and I had just overseen our client holiday party. Two hundred volunteers had prepared and staffed a holiday dinner for nearly 1,000 guests. For many of the agency’s elderly and physically challenged clients, this was their only holiday celebration, enjoying hot meals, camaraderie and seasonal entertainment as part of an extended family. For parents, it was a chance to enjoy festive, hot meals with their children, who got to open gifts that would have been otherwise unattainable. For just a little while, our guests could set aside their daily struggles and enjoy the holiday season.

Despite the party, I was feeling glum. My own children were now in their twenties and would not be coming home for the holidays. My dearest friend was in the hospital again, having suffered a health setback. I had no plans for the holidays, other than watching old movies and dining on Chinese take-out alone. Nonetheless, I had put on a happy face for the party. That was the least I could do for our guests, who had so little, yet never wallowed in self-pity. I had so much for which to be grateful and I needed to adjust my attitude accordingly.

The party had gone smoothly and a joyous time was had by all. The volunteers had hastily cleaned up, put away the leftover food and refolded tables and chairs. After saying goodbyes and thanking each one for their extra effort on this wintry day, I found myself locking up alone. The sun would set in less than an hour and I wanted to make it home before dark.

A foot of powdery snow had fallen overnight, adding to the two feet already hemming in the Chicago sidewalks. The glistening sunshine was blinding but did little to ease the single-digit temperature and the whipping winds.

I pulled my furry hat down low on my forehead and wrapped my heavy red wool scarf around my face. With my car key in hand, I trudged slowly through the uneven path of ice and snow, struggling to maintain my balance. I pulled my car door open, turned on the ignition and waited a few minutes for the car to warm up. The street was deserted and I prayed that I wouldn’t get stuck in the unplowed roadway.

As I approached the first stoplight, I noticed a man standing at the corner with two young girls. He was tall, with short black hair and no hat. His well-worn parka seemed like it had been through many a winter. The man had a brown paper shopping bag in his right hand, keeping his left hand hidden in his jacket pocket. The two children were bundled in pink jackets and matching hats, their brown eyes peeking out over the tops of their scarves. Their white boots were hidden beneath a layer of dirty slush. I wondered where they could be headed on such a chilly, gray day.

I pulled over and asked, “Are you waiting for the Main Street bus?”

“Yes, Ma’am. We’ve been here nearly thirty minutes so I’m hoping it will be around soon,” he replied politely.

I had overheard a conversation about the Main Street bus at the holiday party. Clients were discussing the inconvenience created by the recent Sunday service elimination. Many rode this route regularly and had to find other means of transportation. Few had cars and walking was brutal on these winter days.

“It doesn’t run on Sundays anymore,” I told him as I got out of my car to avoid shouting. “Where are you headed?”

“Well that explains the wait. I’ll have to call a cab. Thank you,” he said. “We’re heading home, about four miles. We were at Grandma’s house helping her with holiday preparations.”

For a brief moment, I heard my mother’s voice in my head, reminding me to never speak to strangers and especially never, ever to offer a ride to a stranger. However, seeing this young family shivering in the cold, I felt the only option was to lend a hand and get them out of the cruel weather.

“I’m headed that way, too. Please, let me drive you,” I instinctively replied. “It’s too cold for anyone to be out here, and I’d be happy to have the company.” I pulled out a business card and handed it to him as a way of introducing myself and establishing credibility.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to put you out. Now that I know there’s no bus, I can just call a cab,” he replied.

“No, really, it would be my pleasure. Please. I’m going that way anyway and you’ll get there faster,” I insisted.

“Okay, if you’re sure. Thank you, thank you so much,” he said with a smile as the girls climbed into the back seat. “I’m Joshua and these are my daughters, Tanya and Toni.”

“Nice to meet all of you,” I mumbled. “Make sure your seat belts are on.”

“You are like an angel from heaven,” Joshua said. “It is so bitterly cold out there, and we were starting to lose feeling in our fingers and toes. We were able to get a ride here, but I didn’t know the bus wouldn’t be running today. I would like to repay your kindness in some way, but I only have our bus passes and a few holiday decorations in this bag.”

“Thank you, but there is no need. I’m glad I came by at this exact time and was able to help,” I replied. “After all, we are all here just to take care of each other, right?”

Slowly and carefully, I made my way through the treacherous streets. The girls chatted about the day at Grandma’s and shared their Santa wish lists. Much like the clients I had served earlier in the day, I hoped Joshua and his family would enjoy a warm, joyous holiday season.

I insisted on dropping my passengers off as close to their destination as possible. The girls thanked me and gleefully called out “Merry Christmas” as they stomped up the walkway to their house. “Thank you again for being our angel. I hope kindness finds its way back to you,” Joshua said as he closed the car door.

What he didn’t realize was that it already had. I was blessed with an impromptu human connection, lifted spirits and a warmed heart.

~Cara Rifkin

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

More stories from our partners