My family and I came upon you in a Washington, D.C. Metro stop on Sunday afternoon, October 12. We were a bedraggled family of four—a dad grumpy from having to lug a double stroller up and down the Metro’s escalator stairs, two little redheads cranky from no naps and lots of activities in the big city, and a mom tired and run down from trying to keep everyone together, sane, fed and happy near the end of a long day of sight-seeing .
We were changing train lines and had to maneuver through three different sets of escalators when we met you. My husband had just tossed the stroller up against the wall near where you were standing, and I looked at you with apologetic eyes as I picked the stroller up and leaned it against the wall. You smiled sweetly at me. You asked me what brought us to the city, and when I told you about my sister’s wedding the previous day, you said, “Oh, I bet she looked so beautiful. And how did you two meet?” As I started telling you how my husband and I met, my daughters came over to my side. It was then that you pulled two little envelopes out of your jacket pocket and gave one to each of my girls. I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant at first, a complete stranger in the Metro giving something to my children, but after a moment’s hesitation, I saw the little light shining in your eyes. My girls looked at the beautiful little red envelopes with Asian characters on them, and not knowing what they were, looked at me in confusion. When you suggested they open them, they looked at me for guidance, and I told them it was okay. Of course, all they paid attention to was the dollar bill you had slipped inside each one, but I saw the other card in there as well and briefly read the side that included your name, address, email and position: “Retired Federal Civil Servant”.
Our train was approaching the station, so we didn’t really have time to say much more than “Thank You” as we gathered up our stroller and children and boarded the train. I watched you for a moment as you entered the train at the rear of our car. As soon as you boarded, you started cheerfully talking to the people around you. I tried to catch snippets of your conversation but couldn’t hear over the noise of the train. But I could see you, a big smile on your face as you brought smiles to the faces of everyone around you. Best I could tell, you got off at the next stop, disappearing like an angel, and it was then that I took the time to read what you had given us. It was a chart of all the Chinese New Years complete with the year, date of the New Year, the animal representing it, and the characteristics of those born in that year. Through it, I learned that I was born in the year of the Snake and am “wise, passionate, determined and attractive”; that my husband was born in the year of the Dog and is “dependable, protective, tender, private and eccentric”; and lastly, that my daughters were born in the year of the Sheep and will grow up to be “sensitive, have success in the arts, aesthetic, and charitable”. I marveled at the similarities to our personalities.
When we got back to my sister’s apartment, my girls drew pictures for you to thank you for your kindness. I'm mailing those to you today along with this letter. I’ve kept the cards you gave us, along with these pictures, in a little zippered pouch in my purse ever since you gave them to us. I even convinced my girls to let me keep the dollar bills in there so we could save everything as a reminder of the blessing we received from you that day. I’m not sure why you chose us. Maybe it was the frustration and tiredness you saw on our faces; maybe you were just waiting for a family with two small children to come by; or maybe you truly were an angel, sent to remind us that no matter the troubles that may come our way, someone is always watching over us, and that a simple gift of friendly kindness can make a huge impression on someone else’s life, as you have on mine.
I think of you often, dear sir, and whenever I’m having a bad day, I pull those beautiful little red envelopes out of their pouch in my purse and read them again. I’ll save them to give to my children when they are old enough to truly appreciate the gesture. And I’ll tell them this story about the angel we met on the Metro in Washington, D.C. when they were five years old. Thank you, Mr. Franklin Fung Chow, for you truly are a blessing, and I’m quite certain there were gossamer wings underneath your jacket. I wish you the merriest of Christmas holidays and many blessings for the New Year to come.