Jasmyn Morris (JM): The last few months have been hard. A global pandemic has changed the way we live and interact with each other. Many of us have been feeling isolated and alone.
So in this brand new season of the StoryCorps podcast from NPR, we’re bringing you stories from our archive that celebrate moments of connection between everyday people around the country; conversations that give us hope, inspiration and comfort.
I’m your host Jasmyn Morris, and in this episode, stories about compassion and kindness.
First, you’ll hear from a man in San Francisco who at the age of 46 started following a simple weekly routine.
Every Tuesday, he would fill a shopping cart with groceries at the local food bank and make home deliveries to the elderly and disabled neighbors in his low-income housing complex.
Herman Travis (HT): When I first started doing it, people was cautious. They didn’t let me in their house, period. But after they got to really know me, they would be happy to see me and I’d be happy to see them too.
JM: That’s Herman Travis, and in 2014, he sat down at StoryCorps with his friend and neighbor Robert Cochran, one of the people he delivered groceries to.
Robert Cochran (RC): You can hear the shopping cart coming down the sidewalk. My wife would say, ’Bobby. Here come Herman.” (Laughs)
The amazing thing is how he load that shopping cart up and push it up that hill.
HT: I got it all down pat.
RC: But you always do it with a smile.
RC: I sometimes sit back and watch you. And I seen the way that you handle yourself with the residents. They know they treated with respect when they see you coming. And there are people in other complexes that have been trying to steal Herman for years to pay him to come and deliver their food for them.
HT: Oh yeah.
RC: We know. [Laughs] But we’re a close-knit bunch.
You know, it’s the little things that you do day in and day out that I admired for the last 8 years. I don’t think that you can find a better person to be friends with.
HT: Thank you. I’m doing something that people really need and that makes me feel really good. So long as I have breath in my body, I’m going to continue doing it. I sleep good at night.
JM: That’s Herman Travis with his friend and neighbor, Robert Cochran, at StoryCorps in San Francisco.
Herman delivered groceries to his neighbors for 14 years, but he’s now 60 himself, so he finally stopped just last year.
Our next story takes place just a short drive away from the housing complex where Herman and Robert live.
In 2013, longtime friends Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez were working together at a nursing home in Castro Valley, California. Maurice was a cook and Miguel was a janitor.
One morning they showed up for work only to find out the company that managed the home had suddenly shut it down—abandoning many of the elderly residents still in the building.
The staff stopped being paid, so the majority of them left, except for Maurice and Miguel.
Maurice Rowland (MR): There was about 16 residents left behind and we had a conversation in the kitchen, ”What are we going to do?”
Miguel Alvarez (MA): If we left, they wouldn’t have nobody. We were just the cook and the janitor but I was cleaning people up, helping them take a bath.
MR: I was passing out meds. My original position was the cook but we had, like, people that had dementia. I just couldn’t see myself going home, next thing you know they’re in the kitchen trying to cook their own food and burn the place down. You know what I mean?
MA: I would only go home for one hour; take a shower, get dressed then be there for 24 hour days.
MR: There’s people up three in the morning, walking around, and…
MA: Yeah, you couldn’t go to sleep. I’d bring movies from my house, “let’s just watch this” at three, four in the morning, then they’d go to sleep.
MR: Even though they wasn’t our family, they were kind of like our family for this short period of time.
MA: You know, you feel sad but you don’t want to show them you’re feeling like that, you know. My parents, when they was younger, they left me abandoned. And knowing how they’re going to feel, I didn’t want them to go through that.
MR: I think you’re pretty strong for sticking in there.
MA: You too, Maurice.
MR: If I would’ve left, I think that would have been on my conscience for a very long time.
JM: That’s Maurice Rowland with his friend Miguel Alvarez in Hayward, California.
They took care of the residents for three days—until the fire department and the sheriff took over the situation.
This case helped the state of California pass legislation to protect residents from being abandoned when a care facility is shut down.
We’ll be right back after a short break. Stay with us.
JM: Welcome back.
Next, we turn to Ronald Ruiz, who came to the original StoryCorps booth in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, back in 2004, to talk about his long career as a bus driver.
And the first story he told was about a memorable passenger he picked up one day in the Bronx.
Ronald Ruiz: I remember one woman in particular, a senior, who had gotten on my bus, and she seemed completely lost. I could see she was confused. I don’t know whether it was an illness, but she looked so beautiful, for a hot summer day to have her fur on.
So I said, “Are you okay?” And she said, “I’m fine. I’m fine, but I don’t know what restaurant I’m meeting my friends.” I said, “You sit in the bus. I’ll run in and I’ll check each restaurant.
The very, very last one on the left, I said, It’s got to be this one. So I said to her, “Stay here, sweetie. It’s nice and cool in here.” I went in and said, “There’s a lady on the bus, and she’s not sure the restaurant.” And I saw a whole bunch of other seniors there and they said, “Oh it’s probably her.”
So, I ran back to the bus. I said, “Oh sweetie, your restaurant is right here.” And I said, “No, no, don’t move.” And I grabbed her hand. I remember my right hand grabbed her right hand. I wanted to make her feel special, like it’s a limousine. It’s a bus.
She said she felt like Cinderella. And she said, “I’ve been diagnosed with cancer and today is the best day of my life.” Just because I helped her off the bus. And I never forgot that woman.
JM: That was Ronald Ruiz, a longtime bus driver from the Bronx who retired a few years after recording this interview.
Our last story comes from Ceceley Chambers, a chaplain in Rhode Island who’s worked with seniors and hospice patients around the northeast for over a decade.
In 2015, she was regularly visiting seniors at a home for people with memory loss.
And as she got to know the residents, she learned that one of the things they loved most was having kids come by to visit. So of course, she thought about her 9-year-old son, William.
Ceceley Chambers (CC): What went through your mind when I said, do you want to come to work with me and visit with some seniors?
William Chambers (WC): My original thought was, “Oh no.”
CC: You’d rather stay home and play video games?
WC: Well, I was a little afraid. Then when I got there, I really liked it.
CC: Why did you like it so much?
WC: I liked it because they were very thoughtful. They were very accepting.
CC: I remember the first day I took you. We sat at this long table and I was helping feed a resident who couldn’t feed herself, and you sat at the end of the table with another resident, who just started talking to you. And you just jumped into her world; you didn’t try to correct her. She had a baby doll, and she thought the baby doll was real. You didn’t say, ‘Oh no, that’s just a doll.’ You just went with her.
WC: I think people are free to think whatever they want to think. They don’t need to believe in what other people believe in.
What have you learned from the residents?
CC: I think I learned about the importance of being present, and the beauty of just little small moments.
WC: They made me think you should enjoy life as much as you can, ‘cause it doesn’t happen forever.
Do you think it was hard to say goodbye to them everyday when you know they may die sometime soon?
CC: It was hard. There’s no doubt about it. Every time I left there, I knew that there’s a chance that one of them wouldn’t be there when I got back the next week.
Do you think that your experience coming to work with me will affect you in the future? You can say no. (laughs)
WC: I really do. I think before, I wouldn’t think as much about the world and how hard it can be. And I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t be the same person.
CC: Do you like the person you are today because of that?
WC: I really do.
CC: Yeah, I think that’s really important.
WC: I like the person they’ve helped me become.
JM: That’s Ceceley Chambers with her 9-year-old son, William, at StoryCorps in Providence, Rhode Island.
Four years later, Ceceley, who is still working as a hospice chaplain, sat down to record another interview with her son—this time from their home.
CC: So, the last time we interviewed each other like this you were 9. Now you’re 13…
CC: …and there’s a COVID pandemic.
WC: It’s very scary sometimes when you hear in the news how bad it’s getting but it makes me happy to know that I’m connected to someone who is making the difference and making it better.
CC: That’s sweet of you to say.
WC: Since you work in the medical industry, what is it like dealing through this virus?
CC: The structure of my days hasn’t changed since COVID but what’s different is just the layer of fear that the patients have and the staff have. So it definitely became a lot harder to keep my work life and my home life separate. Have you noticed that too?
WC: Yeah, I try to work harder on having empathy for whatever mood you’re in because of how hard your job is.
CC: I was thinking too about our friends at the nursing home. Do you remember that last time you were able to come and visit the seniors, I called you my ace in the hole? (Laughs)
CC: Just having you there… they love you so much.
WC: Do you think in times like this, it’s better to be pessimistic or do you think it’s better to be optimistic and hope for the best?
CC: I am fundamentally optimistic about our world. It’s Desmond Tutu that says we are fragile creatures and it’s because of this fragility, not despite it, that we are able to find true joy. Which is why I say that, even in this scary awful time, there is the possibility of connection.
WC: I hope those kinds of lessons people will take from what we’re going through right now. And I hope that, if we can all get along during this, we can all get along better without this.
JM: That’s William Chambers with his mom, Ceceley Chambers. They recorded their interview using StoryCorps Connect, a new digital platform that allows people to participate in StoryCorps remotely.
And while Ceceley and William recorded together safely in their home, many people are using StoryCorps Connect to interview loved ones they can’t be with.
Like 15-year-old Maddie Larson, who recorded with her grandmother Nancy Frederiksen, even though they live 600 miles away from each other.
Maddie Larson (ML): Thank you for doing this interview with me.
Nancy Frederiksen (NF): I hope it helps you. I’ve enjoyed it and you’ve probably learned a little bit about me.
ML: Yes, I learned a lot actually.
ML: I love you, Noni.
NF: I love you more.
ML: Love you most.
JM: To learn more about how to record your own virtual conversation head over to StorycorpsConnect.org.
That’s all for this episode. It was produced by Jud Esty-Kendall and Sylvie Lubow; edited by me, Jasmyn Morris. Our technical director is Jarrett Floyd. Fact-checking by Natsumi Ajisaka. And special thanks to StoryCorps producers John White, Sarah Kramer, as well as facilitators Yosmay del Mazo, Geraldine Ah-Sue, Naomi Blech and Brett Myers.
As always, you can find out what music you just heard by going to our website—StoryCorps.org.
For the StoryCorps podcast, I’m Jasmyn Morris. Thanks for listening.