By Beverly M Bartlett
It was just a few more days until Christmas in San Francisco, and the shopping downtown was starting to get to us. I remember crowds of people waiting impatiently for slow-moving buses and streetcars on those little cement islands in the middle of the street.
Most of us were loaded down with packages, and it looked like many of us were beginning to wonder if all those countless friends and relatives actually deserved so many gifts in the first place. This was not the Christmas spirit I’d been raised with.
When I finally found myself virtually shoved up the steps of a jammed streetcar, the idea of standing there packed like a sardine the whole way home was almost more than I could take. What I would have given for a seat!
I must have been in some kind of exhausted daze because as people gradually got off, it took me a while to notice that there was room to breathe again.
Then I saw something out of the corner of my eye. A small, dark-skinned boy—he couldn’t have been more than five or six—tugged on a woman’s sleeve and asked, “Would you like a seat?” He quietly led her to the closest seat free seat he could find. Then he set out to find another tired person. As soon as each rare, new seat became available, he would quickly move through the crowd in search of another burdened woman who desperately needed to rest her feet.
When I finally felt the tug on my own sleeve, I was absolutely dazzled by the beauty in this little boy’s eyes. He took my hand, saying, “Come with me,” and I think I’ll remember that smile as long as I live. As I happily placed my heavy load of packages on the floor, the little emissary of love immediately turned to help his next subject.
The people on the streetcar, as usual, had been studiously avoiding each other’s eyes, but now they began to exchange shy glances and smiles. A businessman offered a section of newspaper to the stranger next to him; three people stooped to return a gift that had tumbled to the floor. And now people were speaking to one another. That little boy had tangibly changed something—we all relaxed into a subtle feeling of warmth and actually enjoyed the trip through the final stops along the route.
I didn’t notice when the child got off. I looked up at one point and he was gone.
When I reached my stop I practically floated off that streetcar, wishing the driver a Merry Christmas, noticing the sparkling Christmas lights only my street in a fresh, new way. Or maybe I was seeing them in an old way, with the same open wonder I felt when I was five or six. I thought, “So that’s what they mean by…and a little child shall lead them.”
May we all be inspired and challenged by this little boy and share small acts of kindness to those around us. Merry Christmas!