A Stranger's Note On The Subway Reminded Me To Be Kind

Sometimes, you need the reminder.

As a reporter for a news outlet that specializes in positive journalism, I'm constantly on the lookout for feel-good, inspirational stories. Every now and then, one lands in my lap. 

On Wednesday, I was on my way to work, reading through my emails on my phone and enjoying a New York City rarity: a seat on the crowded subway during a rush hour commute. I hadn't slept much the night before, and the seat felt like a real blessing.

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But as I was reading through my emails, I noticed the train fill up. I did my usual, courteous scan for older individuals and pregnant women. It's a piece of New York etiquette I've noticed many people observe. If a pregnant or elderly woman gets on the train, you'll typically see two or three people stand up simultaneously to offer their seat.

I didn't see any on this day, but I did spot a woman who looked like she was middle-aged and had a look on her face that seemed a bit distressed. She didn't seem angry or upset, but she was looking around the car desperately for a seat. So I stood up and asked her if she'd like mine, feeling good about this small act of kindness and like I had won the morning for getting to enjoy a seat for a few minutes during my commute.

The exchange went how it usually does: she smiled, thanked me, I stood up and we shuffled past each other. But about five minutes later, another man on the subway tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a blue slip of paper. I had my headphones in so I couldn't hear what he said, but he pointed to the woman behind him, the one now sitting my seat.

I opened the note.

The note a stranger handed me on the subway after I gave her my seat. Cate Matthews / A Plus

"When you gave up your seat I was in so much pain," it read. "Your simple kindness moved me to tears. Thank you." 

I turned to look back at her and she touched her heart and smiled at me. She did — in fact — look like she had been crying with happiness and relief. I smiled back and told her she was welcome, and at the next stop I got off. But her note, which now sits on my desk at work, stuck with me.

It's easy to do a small kind thing like hold a door, give up your seat, or say "thank you" and not see the payback for it. It's easier not feel the goodness that comes from a deed like that. I was lucky enough to get that reward in real time, and it was a good reminder that defaulting to being kind, defaulting toward making that extra effort, can change someone's day in a bigger way than you might ever know.

Her note, an act of kindness in itself, woke me up to how many opportunities I get each and every day to do small little kind things like that. It also reinforced a simple idea that made me want to tell this story: kindness is rarely something you ever regret. 

Hopefully, we can all spread more of it each day.

Cover image via MACH Photos / Shutterstock.com.

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