Wendell Williams with his "coolest pair of gloves"
Street Sense Media

The whole premise of writing about random acts is to remind each other that we are not aware of the power that we have to change the lives of others. You can never know the full impact of one kind word, gesture thought or gift of compassion during a very crucial or difficult time for the recipient.

I may not even be alive today if were not for nameless, faceless compassionate people who, at just the right time, wondered in to my life.

With winter coming to a close, I think of the many kind things compassionate strangers have done for me, from way back with my 1980 Christmas miracle in Ohio (which we’ve shared in a previous edition), right on up to this winter in Takoma Park.

I’ll start with the late 90s in Cincinnati.

While distributing the Streetvibes paper there, I found myself having to be out in unforgiving weather to earn rent for my Single Room Occupancy. As most Midwesterners will understand, we work in conditions that would close D.C. for days.

I was working in front of Carol’s on Main Street, a gay-friendly restaurant and bar. Normally that fact wound be unimportant, but I mention it because I found the crowd who frequented this establishment to be the most kind, compassionate, sympathetic and encouraging group of people that I had ever met.

Many patrons and staff in that community helped me in my quest to move to a place. Almost everyone knew me by name, which meant a lot at this time when my self-esteem and confidence was so low.

All the great things those people did for me still come to mind. Not a day goes by, especially in the winter, that I don’t think of their many kind random acts.

One happened late on a Saturday evening. I was still trying to distribute the paper in six or eight inches of snow that was still falling. As I stood under the canopy of Carol’s (with management’s permission), a couple stopped and asked me about the paper. I shared a little bit about Streetvibes, and a little bit about myself. They decided to make a donation. After, they joined hands to continue walking, stopped, and turned back around to ask if I was okay. “Aren’t you cold? It’s freezing out here.”

The husband then came over, took off his warm fleece-lined hat and put it on my head. He pulled the flaps down over my ears and told me “Stay warm.”

They grabbed each other’s hands again to leave. Then the wife turned back, took the long scarf from around her neck, and wrapped it around mine, several times. This knitted scarf had to be three or four feet long. She tucked it inside the chest of my jacket, which had no lining, and told me “Stay safe, stay warm.”

That was about 20 year ago. It stays fresh in my mind, as if it happened yesterday. I have no memory of the amount they donated, or their faces. I just hold on to the look in their eyes that showed they cared deeply for my plight.

On another cold, snowy evening outside of Carol’s, a gentleman who was a regular stepped out to smoke. He asked me about the paper. I told him what it was and why I didn’t “just go home.” I told him why I had to be out in that kind of weather. He nodded and said he understood, took a drag off his cigarette, and let it drift down to the pavement. He stomped the cigarette out with his foot and asked “how many of those papers do you have left?”

The question puzzled me, but I answered. And when I told him the number, he quickly went into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, and handed me a large bill. “Now, you go home,” he said. To this day, I don’t remember his face, but I’ll never forget his act of kindness. One thing I do remember is that he drove a Jaguar convertible, because from then on I always referred to him as “Mr. Jaguar.”

That kindness was not unique to Ohio. Years later, selling Street Sense during winter here in D.C., a lady who had no interest in buying a paper returned 15 minutes later with a bag cold-weather gear. She passed it to me, said “Stay warm,” and just kept walking. I don’t remember her face and I never knew her name. But I remember that kindness. It was maybe two years ago.

Then this winter, on a cold bitter Sunday, I had forgotten my gloves. It was about 12 degrees and you have to have your whole body covered if you don’t want to get sick out there. This lady came up to buy a paper and asked “Where are your gloves?” I told her how I had forgotten them. She walked away and reappeared in front of me with a bag. She gave it to me. I opened the bag to look inside, then looked back up. There was no sign of her. Like most angels, she just flew away.

Inside the bag was the coolest pair of gloves. They’ve got a hood that slides over the fingers. So they allow me to easily handle the papers and people’s change, but still stay warm. It’s getting warmer now, but I still have those gloves on the back seat to remind me of that random act of kindness by a faceless stranger.