Most every morning, I visit St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx where I walk and run and work out. It’s a lovely park with big trees arching over a wide path and big natural rock outcroppings on the hills. A running track tucks into the back of the park with slant boards and pull up bars in its center.
The park is beautifully laid out, but it’s not well-maintained. Litter isn’t picked up regularly. The grass is poorly cut. Weeds grow through the pavement here and there. And the granite stairs that climb up the side of the hill are cracked.
It’s far from pristine, and you would probably wonder why I am drawn to this litter-filled park. But I love working out there because I meet people I would never otherwise encounter in the same way. And from them, I learn lessons about life that stick with me for a long time.
Today, for example, I learned about Dennis.
Who is Dennis?
Dennis is a handsome 28 year old, dark skinned black man. He looks strong and fit with broad shoulders and muscles well-defined under his shirt. Every morning by 7:30 he arrives at the park carrying weights and workout bands.
He meets two women and spends an hour putting them through a rigorous workout. He’s well-organized and disciplined. And the women he trains work out hard.
Today, Dennis was leaving the park at the same time I was. So we walked together for a few blocks. He told me how proud he was of the women he was training. How well they are doing. One of them had just been to the doctor and no longer needs her cholesterol medication. The other has lost 8 pounds.
When I asked Dennis why he trains them, he said simply, “I just like helping people. I always have.”
A Common Thread of Kindness
Now, chances are that if you walked around the South Bronx where I live and passed Dennis on the street, you wouldn’t think of him as kind and helpful. In fact, you might well look down and pull into yourself rather than saying “hello.”
But really, that’s who Dennis is. A helpful, responsible young man in a very poor neighborhood who is making a positive impact on the lives of others.
Dennis’ story, among many others I learn at St Mary’s, makes me feel lucky to work out in a community park in a neighborhood full of people whose lives are different from my own. Rather than feeling threatened, I feel buoyed by the goodness I find in the people I meet. Again and again, I find their humanity and kindness easily cross the barriers of race, culture and class.
Perhaps I’m simplistic, but I believe that if more people rubbed shoulders with people who are not like them, many of the social ills in our country would fall away. It’s easier to find common threads than you might think.
Get to Know People Who are Not Like You
How homogenized is your community? Do you interact regularly with people of different races and classes? Most people don’t. They stick closely in communities of their own kind. Find a way to get to know people who are not like you. You’ll not only learn about them, but you’ll learn important lessons about yourself and humanity.
I’d love to hear your stories about interacting with people who are very different from you. Share them in the comments below or head over to Facebook and leave a message there.