The nicest person I met in New York City was a street sweeper.
Walking out of my hotel last week I turned to the right to visit a beautiful church next door. Approaching the crosswalk I noticed a half-dozen New York police officers standing at the curb – each armed with assault weapons and dressed in protective clothing. A German Shepherd police dog sat obediently among the officers.
This, something you don’t see everyday on the streets of small town America, caught my attention. Add to the fact it was my first trip to New York City and you could say my senses were pretty much wide open to receiving new experiences and images.
Exiting from the busy stream of people pulling me along the sidewalk, I pulled out my phone and quickly took a photo to show friends at home.
“Hey,” came a booming voice from beside me. “Am I not important enough to take a picture of too?”
Turning around I found myself staring into the biggest grin I’d seen in years from a man holding a broom and sweeping up litter around the trash can at the corner.
“I do important work around here, too.”
Six foot tall and as warm as your favorite uncle, I couldn’t help but laugh with him.
“I’m the guy who makes New York City look good,” he said with a genuine sense of pride and stressing the final syllables of the last word.
“Absolutely,” I said holding up my phone.
“Wait, let me grab my tools and get posed for you.”
The entire time people are rushing around us on the sidewalk like we are a pair of stones in a stream of rushing water – only to those everyone else we are invisible.
Once set, his broom and dust bin in place and again flashing his infectious smile, I captured a photo of this very special person.
I found it ironic to be standing in arguably the most dynamic city in the world only to be reminded by someone who might easily be considered a background player that everyone plays an important role in the world we experience.
Until that moment I’d found myself somewhat hypnotized by the glitter and wealth of the city – as I imagine most people when they first visit. Towers reaching into the skies, elevators racing tens of stories in the blink of an eye, and countless yellow cabs zigzagging along the streets below like ants racing to a picnic.
All the material wealth, however, makes it too easy to forget there are faces beyond the rich and wealthy. Everywhere there are those without millions in their bank accounts who get up each day build the city the world so marvels. And those very same people, the ones who do not have their names written on the front of towers or business, are the ones who really make the city such a special place.
I thanked my friend, we shared a couple more light-hearted laughs, and we both went on our way.
But what he doesn’t know is he will always be one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. On that particular morning he reminded me to never get overly caught up in the glamor of what you see — remembering instead there is nothing more dignified than the work of those who built what you see around you.
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