In the early 1900s, Anthony, a young Italian immigrant to the United States, was being screened at New York’s Ellis Island. In those days, one requirement for entry into the country was having at least twenty dollars to ensure that you could support yourself until you found work. Anthony, unaware of that requirement, had only sixteen dollars. He therefore would have been sent back to Italy, except for the kindness of a passing stranger who gave him the four dollars he needed.
Elated at the man’s compassion, Anthony thanked him profusely and promised to repay him as soon as he could. However, in the excitement and confusion of the admission process, he didn’t get the man’s name or address. In the weeks and months that followed, he tried numerous times to get that information, but always failed.
Anthony first got a railroad job in a NYC railroad station. Eventually, he moved to Rochester NY and in time became the stationmaster there. But he never forgot the generosity of the man at Ellis Island. Since he could not repay that kindness, he decided to practice his gratitude by being generous to those around him.
Once, as Anthony was walking through the station, he noticed a woman sitting on a bench. Next to her sat a small child drinking a bottle of milk. The milk was so spoiled that Anthony could smell it as he passed. Inquiring about the woman’s circumstances, he learned that she was traveling to a distant city to meet her husband. She had a ticket on a train leaving the next morning, but no money for food or lodging. Anthony took her and the child to a restaurant and bought them a meal. Then he took them to a nearby hotel and arranged for their lodging.
On another occasion, he noticed a man in a clerical collar staggering through the terminal, reeking of alcohol. Many people would have simply judged the man unworthy of his vocation and walked on. But Anthony asked him where he was going. Though his tongue was thick, the man managed to explain through his tears that his mother had died suddenly, and he was traveling to her funeral. Anthony concluded that his drunken state was attributable to grief rather than dissolution, so he removed the man’s clerical collar and put it in the man’s pocket. Then he called a cab and told the driver to take the man to a nearby hotel and charge the room to him. (By then local innkeepers were familiar with Anthony’s kindness and knew that he would pay them.) The next morning the clergyman, sober and ashamed, found Anthony at the train station, reimbursed him, and gave him a special blessing.
Anthony’s daughter is a friend of mine, and she told me these and other stories of her father’s kindness over the years, each one performed in appreciation of that stranger’s compassion at Ellis Island. She added that throughout her father’s life, whenever he spoke of that stranger, his eyes filled with tears of gratitude.
Whenever I recall Anthony’s story, I am moved by its profundity. The stranger’s single act of kindness for Anthony shaped Anthony’s entire life, and that life became an example of kindness for at least hundreds and perhaps thousands of other lives and, through them, continues to bless the world. The quiet message contained in these events inspires all who read it, and brings hope to a world that increasingly needs it.
Copyright © 2023 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved