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A Small Moment Becomes a Lifeline: A Review of “An Invisible Thread” by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski
There are some connections that last a lifetime, and there are others that were meant to be before our lives even started. When Laura walked past Maurice, she had no idea that the moment she met the eleven-year-old boy would change both their lives, and many others.
What would you do if you saw someone in need? What if that person was asking you for money? What if he was an eleven-year-old boy who asked because he was hungry?
In 1986, Laura Schroff walked right by Maurice Mazyck, a young boy panhandling on the corner of New York’s 56th Street and Broadway. He’d asked her for money, but she was busy.
“I ignored him, very simply because he wasn’t in my schedule,” she admits. But something made her turn back and offer to buy him lunch at McDonald’s. That was the beginning of their thirty-year friendship and a time in which Maurice grew up and out of a dangerous and unstable world of poverty, neglect, abuse, and drugs, into a successful and happy life full of family and love. And it all happened because of the moment when Laura, unaware of the magnitude of her gesture, threw him a lifeline.
An Invisible Thread is the story of this remarkable friendship – how it began and how it grew. Written by Laura L. Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, it explains an unlikely connection which Laura calls destiny. She compares their meeting to the ancient Chinese proverb that says, “An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, and circumstance.”
Laura was a busy ad executive, living in New York and enjoying the perks of her successful career when she met Maurice. Maurice lived in a welfare hotel on West 54th and Broadway, two short blocks from Laura’s luxury apartment. He’d been panhandling for a couple years by then, getting enough change to buy himself food each day. A child on his own, “Maurice came and went as he pleased; no one ever asked him where he’d been or where he was going, no matter the time of day or night. He answered to no one, and, in turn, no one really looked out for him.” Imagine being a kid with no one to look out for you.
Every Monday for four years, Laura and Maurice met and she taught him the rituals of a stable family life, knowing how important they were. She took him out to eat. Sometimes they went to the park or to a baseball game. Soon, he was visiting her in her apartment where they cooked dinner and baked cookies together. They played board games. He did his homework at her kitchen table and she made him extra food to take home. She bought him clothes and helped him with laundry. When the holidays came, Laura brought him with her, showing him the joy of sharing special times with her siblings. These were the normal activities of a stable home and they were part of Laura’s lifeline to Maurice.
Maurice came from a family plagued by drug abuse. His father, Morris, was a violent gang member, an alcoholic, and a heavy drug user who abandoned the family when Maurice was five. His mother, Darcella, was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine, and was in and out of jail during most of Maurice’s childhood. They shared a one-room apartment with his grandmother, his two sisters, and an ever-changing number of uncles who used the place to buy, sell, and use drugs.
Laura’s friendship with Maurice drew skepticism and concern from her friends and co-workers. Her boss warned her, questioning how it looked and saying that their friendship could be misinterpreted. Others suggested that Maurice’s family could resent her, and that Laura was compromising her own safety, but Laura had a strong feeling about Maurice. She could see that he was a good kid caught in a bad situation. She was careful to show his family respect and she resisted the strong urge to be a mother to Maurice, choosing to be his friend instead. She also explains that, although she and Maurice came from very different backgrounds, she shared his feeling of insecurity as a child. More than anything, she wanted to give him a place where he felt safe and loved.
How did Laura know all this? Her upbringing couldn’t have been more different. She grew up in a solid middle-class town. She always had a roof over her head, plenty of food to eat, and clothes to wear. As one of five children, she had a strong bond with her sisters and brothers. But Laura’s life was only stable on the surface. Her father was an alcoholic and was a disruptive force in their family. “My father liked to drink, and drinking changed who he was,” she writes. Laura and her siblings tried their hardest to protect their mother and their brother, Frankie, who were their father’s frequent targets. They worked to keep the house perfect, and they hid in their beds when he raged over a mislaid item. Together, and in silence, they suffered the effects of his abuse.
As time passed, their situations changed. Laura and Maurice continued to meet as much as they could until Maurice turned nineteen, but for two unsettling years, each would face unique challenges that threatened their connection. Fatherhood and its responsibilities reminded Maurice that he needed to break out of his dangerous world, but he struggled with his choices. For Laura, a marriage she thought would mean family and acceptance changed the ease and flow of her friendship with Maurice. When Maurice stopped calling, she stood by. She hoped their friendship was strong enough. Maurice faced hard choices, but thinking of Laura made him do the right thing. “The thread may stretch or tangle,” the proverb explains, “but it will never break.” When Maurice’s mother died, he understood who his real mother had been. He picked up the phone and now, after thirty years, Laura and Maurice know they are family.
I think stories like this serve two purposes. It feels good to read about someone who, with the help of another, breaks out of a desperate situation. We might tell others about it and we can share in their happiness. But the deeper purpose, of course, is to create an awakening – an awareness of the people around us who would benefit from a lifeline like the one Laura threw to Maurice.
Emily Zak says it just right in her Heart Beings article, “No Longer Looking the Other Way.” She talks about the many lost opportunities to help the homeless. She asks, “What if we stopped for a moment and took the time to acknowledge the humanity in homeless people all around us?” If it’s a matter of not knowing what to do; the answer is simpler than you think, she explains. Instead of passing by with your head down, show some respect, offer what you can, and think about helping with initiatives to end homelessness. After all, small gestures can lead to big changes.
An Invisible Thread is proof that one person can make a difference and a feel-good reminder to do the right thing. For more information about Laura Schroff’s story and her initiatives to help others, visit her website at aninvisiblethread.com.
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