Tanya's Tears -- From the Milk of Human Kindness

You never know how much good can come from a simple act of kindness. What you think is a small gift or gesture to one person, may mushroom into help for another -- and another. Such is the case with the story that follows.

A few days after my book, Homeless Isn't Hopeless, was released in the autumn of 2008, I began to receive invitations to speak. One of those was a Volunteers of America event in Tampa.

Before I could fulfill that commitment, however, I was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent emergency surgery. My appearance in Tampa, and all of my other speaking engagements were cancelled.

A day or two after I was discharged from the hospital, I was tracked down by Gina Seneca, Manager of Guest Relations at Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale. I was, at the time, still without housing and literally living on a Greyhound bus but Gina put forth the extra effort necessary to contact me.

She had something for me, and she made certain I received it. It was a get-well present that had arrived at the hospital the day after my discharge. It was a book from Kelly Barnes and Melissa Parks of Volunteers of America. I had let them down with little notice -- and yet they were sending me a gift. And what a wonderful gift it turned out to be... a book titled, Soup For The Unsinkable Soul.

I devoured that book, and what a lift it gave me. I finished it during a layover in the Greyhound terminal in St. Louis. I won't soon forget that day, nor the next.

I would have loved to have kept that book for the home library of my dreams but with one small piece of luggage, every ounce and every inch of space was important -- and the book had to go.

But I let it go in a way that I thought would please Kelly and Melissa if they knew. I surveyed the waiting area until I spotted a young lady reading a magazine. I approached her and explained my love for the book, and my predicament.

She smiled -- a sad smile I remember thinking -- and then she nodded, without a word, her acceptance. Then I was off -- on the way to Phoenix -- departing mid-morning on a journey that would last until late afternoon the following day. Once en route, I felt at peace because the book that had helped me had a new home and then my mind became otherwise occupied.

It was late morning the following day, when I was awakened from a nap by the soft sound of someone settling into the aisle seat beside me. I was stunned to see the young lady with the book. I had no idea that she had been waiting for the same bus.

This time she spoke seven words: "I think perhaps you saved my life." I didn't know what to say. She seemed to be composed, but there was a tear, a single tear, coming down one cheek, and a second or two later there was a tear from the other eye.

We talked for a while, but all I knew then, or know now, is that her name is Tanya and that she was trying to get through some undisclosed problem, and that she was getting away from St. Louis without knowing where she would finally settle.

I didn't press for personal information, but I did give her my email address and asked that she let me know where she was so that I could send her a copy of my own book general delivery. She got off in Albuquerque, but I don't know if she remained there. And I've never heard from her since.

I only know that she was helped also by the gift intended to help me. The milk of human kindness, the concern for others, within Kelly and Melissa and Gina, had a ripple effect. It helped one person, me, and then another, Tanya, and perhaps many more -- for in one-on-one conversations, I tell this story every chance I get.