My husband (then boyfriend) and I moved to New York City in December 2009. We came from Sydney, Australia where in the southern hemisphere it was glorious summer time. We were completely and utterly unprepared for a New York winter. I was walking around in a thin wool coot and satin ballet flats. I am shaking my head now right recalling my own naivete!
We moved to the U.S. together without me having a job, and financially it was very tough for us in the first few months. I was constantly anxious. People kept telling us how the employment market was terrible, how the city was extremely competitive and how much of a struggle we were going to have. I tried to be hopeful and remain resilient most of the time but I certainly had significant and distressing moments of doubt. At the time I felt overwhelmed, intimidated and very uncertain about the future. My husband and I were fighting a lot and at the time. Its safe to say that it was not a happy holiday season for us.
Not only did the cold air hurt my face every time I stepped outside but my inner fears made the people around us seem dismissive and icy too -- always unsmiling and in a hurry. I cannot stress enough how much this was my perception just because of my mindset at the time. I now know New Yorkers to be the coolest and most interesting people on earth. But at the time, and in my state of mind, I could only amplify in my mind the warmth of the people from the small town we lived in in Sydney. People walked so fast and moved so fast in Manhattan. Side note -- since then, people who visit me say I have become one of them -- I guess they might be right, and if so, it makes me kinda proud.
As we had no proper winter clothing, when we were outdoors we had to keep stepping into stores for momentary respite from the elements. One particular evening soon after we landed the temperature felt especially brutal. The beautiful holiday lights, tunes and spirit surrounded us but we did not feel a part of the magic. That night, for an inexpensive dinner we stopped for a slice of pizza. As I ordered for us, a girl in the line heard my accent. She said, smiling, "are you from England or Australia?" I explained how I grew up in the U.K. but how we just landed from Sydney and she and I had a small, light conversation. I said how shocked we were by the cold weather. This girl looked at me and my lame excuse for winter clothing and exclaimed, "you have no gloves!" and promptly took hers off and gave them to me. Yes. She took her gloves off her hands on a freezing winter's night and gave them to me. "Have these!" she insisted.
I refused. But she would not take no for an answer. She said they were only a couple of dollars and that I needed them more than she did. To really convince me, she said, "I have plenty of pairs, really -- please."
In that moment, I wanted to cry. I was so thankful to this stranger who, with this small but very generous deed, impacted how I felt about our large life move to what seemed to be this big, cold and daunting city. I instantly felt warmer. My husband did too as we stood in that little pizza place -- me with new blue gloves in my hand (that I ended up wearing for weeks and weeks). Sometimes a little kindness is so astonishing that we don't even know how to accept it in the moment. It affected me so deeply. I still recall it vividly now. I hope I thanked her properly.
This one act instantly changed how I interpreted the new world around me. It reminded me that people do care. That love exists and is a very strong force. And that I should focus on giving too, not worrying about what comes my way -- in terms of work, success and opportunity (which is all I had been concerned with for what seemed like a long time at that point). I wanted to be like this girl whose name I didn't know -- to give openly and freely and be and vulnerable and... well... light. I felt so heavy. Her kindness immediately made me feel lighter and I wanted to emit the same energy she did that evening. I too wanted to be the light for someone else. I have never stopped, hence my foray into life coaching.
I wish I knew who she was so I could send her a gift. If you are reading this you beautiful, kind young woman in Midtown five years ago -- thank you. Christmas Day was a few days later and my husband and I both talked about the glove-giving over our lunch at a diner. They were sitting beside me like a lovely, ongoing reminder. Somehow we both knew it altered our sentiment towards our new surroundings at that time. It reminded us of the warmth that we can choose to feel and to be. That it comes from within and a big, positive shift in our life experience is the result when we choose it.
It did turn out to be a happy holiday. And years later, we are still here. I like to think we are almost New Yorkers now if New York will let us. And whenever I share this story, I can still feel the warmth.