Boston, according to the tour book and travel guide, is a city of startling contrasts: stately historic landmarks and compact contemporary condominiums, old architecture beside modern designs, and liberal college students among traditional Yankees.
Yet few guides, if any, contrast the status of people in Boston. In and around Boston Common, homeless beggars, dirty and ragged, walk the same streets as fashionably dressed corporate employees. Jackets and ties pass grubby T-shirts. Nylon stockings and high heels walk past sockless feet in beat-up sneakers. The wealthy or middle-class people don't so much as glance at the scenes of destitution around them; the images of poverty and despair are just part of city life.
On the subway, most folks appear as interested in life as fish are in the barren desert. They stare at some invisible point in front of them, oblivious of who enters or leaves.
For many Bostonians, the T is preferable to the automobile. No wonder , traffic in Boston is notorious; every driver's nightmare. Heedless of pedestrians and angry with each other, Boston drivers barely manage to honk, swerve, race and otherwise maneuver through the maze of narrow roads, one-way streets and steep hills.
These were my thoughts as I travelled through Boston one day. Crime and violence, poverty and homelessness, apathy are almost everywhere , enough to crack my youthful idealism. Riding on the public trolley, I wondered how I would survive on my own in the "real world." Suddenly the trolley stopped and people boarded. I noticed a young man in colorful shorts and shirt stand up. Instead of leaving as I thought he would, he casually stepped aside to let a pregnant woman sit down. That struck me as a thoughtful act in a time when consideration for others is more preached than practiced.
Strolling near downtown Boston later that day, I glimpsed a bearded white man dash across a busy street. I watched him go up to a young black woman with two powerless legs in a wheelchair. He reached behind the wheelchair, swiftly picked up a white package that was on the ground, handed it to her and dashed back across the street after briefly acknowledging her thanks. Wow, I thought, what a nice thing to do.
Large bustling cities have a way of shattering dreams and deteriorating good will among their citizens. People often build walls around themselves for protection against the hardships of life. Stretch out your hand to help someone in need and you just might be pulled out of your self-made shelter into the common house of humanity. The cruelty of some individuals and the utter humiliation of others only frighten you into retreating deeper into your shelter.
These two incidents of charity restored my hope in the goodness of people and patched my cracked idealism. It's so simple to be free of our walls , look beyond gender, color and physical capabilities and recognize the universal dignity that belongs to every human being. Although it's not easy to do, it can be done if we choose to do it.
So maybe life stinks sometimes. Maybe all our dreams don't come true. Maybe people are selfish sometimes. Maybe we're safer looking to just our own interests. But kindness never hurt anyone, except ourselves , if we think that way. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.