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About a month or so ago, while window shopping in the West Village, I looked up and saw Claire Danes. My heart raced, and I wondered what to do or say. I probably looked ridiculous standing there paralyzed; “starstruck” is a phrase for a reason. Should I tell her I loved her in Stardust?

I’m embarrassed to say that this is the first thing that went through my head. In my defense, it’s one of the most delightful movies I’ve ever seen, and her role warms my heart every time. That is my relationship with Claire Danes primarily; I’m the audience, and she’s the actress, so it seemed appropriate in my head.

I walked on past in the other direction. As I got farther away, my mind echoed the last words I heard her say to her husband: “But it says this is Bleecker . . .?”

Oh, for heavens sake. She’s lost, and I didn’t even offer to help with directions, even though I know this neighborhood like the back of my hand. Now it would be weird for me to go back, I thought, lest I be mistaken as a stalker.

For days this missed opportunity plagued my mind. But it wasn’t just because it was a chance run-in with a celebrity. More than that, I was disappointed in myself. What I wanted to do in that moment was so different from what I did. I wanted to tell her I appreciate her work, and I definitely could have helped her find her way. But I didn’t do either. I just went on by, minding my own business.

Was I hesitant to interact because our society relies more and more on digital communication and less on face-to-face moments? (Lord knows; I work remotely from my computer and only see my coworkers in person once a month, so surely this factors in.) Is it that the world and its risks have made me almost afraid of making contact with others on the street? I’m not sure exactly what kept me in my own little world that day, but I know it was more than Danes’ celebrity.

This is not the person I want to be—too busy or worried about safety to not even stop and offer to help with directions. After all, it’s those small ways that are the most common ways I’m called upon to help others on a daily basis.

It doesn’t matter if the person is famous or not. We should give each other the opportunity to receive help without assuming the worst of the situation. And we should offer help, genuinely and without agenda. The world is perhaps less personal than it was decades or even years ago. But just as chivalry may not be dead, good old-fashioned neighborly kindness shouldn’t be either. On the streets of New York or in the freezer aisle of your grocery store, a little compassion can go a long way.

I can’t go back in time, but I’ll definitely commit myself to be more intentional next time because I’d like to be the kind of person who is helpful, who thinks of others in need before myself. I can’t control how others respond to it, if they’ll be rude or appreciative, but their response shouldn’t keep me from doing the right thing—from putting myself out there, from offering help.

Claire Danes, if you ever read this, please accept my apology for my lame behavior. I’m sorry I left you stranded on the ever-confusing corner of Carmine and Bleecker when I totally could have helped.

Given some distance, I’m glad this happened. It may have taken some getting over myself and the blinding stardust in my eyes, but it didn’t happen in vain. Thanks to that afternoon’s lesson, I’m more likely to let three simple yet profound words—the very words I’ve been teaching my daughter as the definition of kindness—spring to my lips all the faster: Can I help?

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons