I’d say she was about 70 years old. Her clothing was tattered, and on the seat beside her was a large bag of random possessions. I had just stepped into a crowded light-rail car, and our eyes met. Using only gestures, she kindly asked if I wanted to sit beside her. I declined — I was happy to stand, and the woman would have had to move the large bag to her lap to free up a spot for me. Was she poor? Apparently. Homeless? Possibly. As the train rolled on, she ate a scrap of food, then seemed to nod off.

Across the aisle from this woman, and in definite contrast to her, was a young 20-something woman, casually dressed, with smartphone in hand and earphones installed, like so many of her generation. And like so many of us on the train, she was probably just letting her mind wander as the cityscape passed by.

In a few minutes, the train reached Nicollet Avenue, which was my stop. As the doors opened, I started to exit, as did the young woman. But as she walked by the older woman, who was still dozing, she ever so gently and quietly slid a dollar bill into the woman’s bag. Another passenger and I saw her do it, and she gave us a warm smile as the three of us stepped onto the platform.

I thanked this young woman for her act of kindness, then pondered what had just happened. At some point later in the day, the older woman would be mystified, and probably pleased, at finding a dollar in her bag. She might not even realize that it was a gift, or if she did, she’d have no idea of who did it or when or where.

As for the young woman, I applauded her sense of true charity — she gave because she saw a genuine need, and did not expect any recognition for her action. And she pulled it off in a subtle way that did not further humble the recipient. Somehow, her action seemed nobler or sweeter than when I plunk some change into a bucket where a man sits holding a sign on a city sidewalk. I know I’m only talking about one dollar here, but I’m guessing that the young woman didn’t have a whole lot of money, and I was confident that the old woman would put it to good use.

As I started walking down Nicollet Avenue, I was a bit put off by the continuing construction, but buoyed by having witnessed a very heartwarming slice of life in Minnesota.

 

Mark Brandt, of Minneapolis, takes the Blue Line to work.