By Clark Mason The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Laura Schroff, author of "An Invisible Thread" shares her story about connecting with an 11 year old panhandler more than 30 years ago and how it changed both of their lives.
The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.
An ancient Chinese proverb says there is an invisible thread that connects those who are destined to meet.
"An Invisible Thread" is also the title of a book by Laura Schroff that tells the story of her meeting an 11-year-old panhandler on a New York City street corner and the unlikely friendship that ensued for more than a quarter-century, changing both of their lives.
Schroff, who turned the experience into a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, on Thursday recounted her journey and message -- acts of kindness can change lives, benefiting both the giver and receiver.
She spoke of the need for compassion and people's desire to tap into goodness "in this crazy, volatile world."
"Kindness is contagious," she told an audience of about 250 people at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts during the Sonoma County Women in Conversation series produced by Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.
"When you do something good for someone, it makes you feel good."
In Schroff's case, she had been accustomed to ignoring panhandlers, But something about the young boy she met that September day more than 30 years ago was different. He had "sweet and trusting eyes" and she soon found out he was "a really good kid stuck in a hard, bad world."
The boy's struggles with poverty, violence and a mother addicted to drugs reminded Schroff of her past and how her father's alcohol-induced rages shaped the person she became.
She said it helped her improve her life and gain a new perspective.
"It's important to throw a lifeline to someone in need, or grab it if it's thrown to you," she said.
Schroff, a career-driven advertising executive at the time, became a mentor to the boy, buying him a meal once a week and even having him to dinner at her apartment. Her family urged her to be careful, warning that she was putting herself in danger.
"Ernest Hemingway said 'the best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them,'?" Schroff said.
She began a friendship that would continue to grow, with the young man now in his 40s and with children of his own.
"One act of kindness can break cycles, have ripple effects that change generations to come," she said.
Schroff encourages people to look for their own "invisible thread" connections and the importance of being aware of opportunities where they can make a difference in the lives of others.
"Some of the greatest blessings in our lives can come in the simplest forms," she said.
She urged her audience to look for similarities with others, not differences.
In a question and answer session, she was asked if one can ever give too much.
"Sometimes you can," she responded.
"You can never give too much love."
She said you can't save the whole world, but if you can help one person at a time it can make a difference.
Those who heard Schroff Thursday were inspired.
"She's brilliant," said Suzanne Lake of Santa Rosa.
"I'm feeling like I want to do a good deed."
"She's terrific. Kindness is not lost," said Thea Daniels of Santa Rosa. "I wanted to get up and give her a hug."