Subways are for kindness

IT was Sunday morning. Usually a quiet time, even on the subway. An old man lumbered onto the car and sat in a heap across the aisle. His exhaustion and crumpled clothes clung to him in layers. He sat mumbling to himself, looking at nothing. Fitfully, he reached into his canvas bag, and sighed. Everyone on the subway ignored him.

At the next stop a little girl, all dressed up for Sunday school, stepped aboard. She stood behind her father, shyly watching the old man. Her eyes rested gently on his face, as she played with the barrette in her hair.

Suddenly, leaning in her direction, the old man grumbled, ''Do you like jam?'' The girl nodded timidly, glancing up to her father. The old man grunted and proceeded to rummage through his frazzled bag. In a moment, he elaborately presented her with a brand new jar of strawberry preserves. By this time all the passengers on the car were watching attentively, smiling to themselves.

Without any hesitation, the father nodded to his daughter and she accepted the jar, smiling her thanks. The old man's face brightened for a moment. At the next stop, the little girl glanced back as she and her dad stepped off the car. The old man's eyes lingered with her until she disappeared. Then he lumbered off into the station, cradling his canvas bag.

I wondered if he saw in her another little girl he had once loved. And if she - and her understanding father - had recognized, beneath his tatters and gloom, a grandfather's warmth. Even on Sunday morning the subway can offer unexpected views.

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