An Invisible Thread
The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny
Publication Date: November 1, 2011
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“Excuse me lady, do you have any spare change? I am hungry.”
When I heard him, I didn’t really hear him. His words were part of the clatter, like a car horn or someone yelling for a cab. They were, you could say, just noise—the kind of nuisance New Yorkers learn to tune out. So I walked right by him, as if he wasn’t there.
But then, just a few yards past him, I stopped.
And then—and I’m still not sure why I did this—I came back.
When Laura Schroff first met Maurice on a New York City street corner, she had no idea that she was standing on the brink of an incredible and unlikely friendship that would inevitably change both their lives. As one lunch at McDonald’s with Maurice turns into two, then into a weekly occurrence that is fast growing into an inexplicable connection, Laura learns heart-wrenching details about Maurice’s horrific childhood.
The boy is stuck in something like hell. He is six years old and covered in small red bites from chinches—bed bugs—and he is woefully skinny due to an unchecked case of ringworm. He is so hungry his stomach hurts, but then he is used to being hungry: when he was two years old the pangs got so bad he rooted through the trash and ate rat droppings. He had to have his stomach pumped. He is staying in his father’s cramped, filthy apartment, sleeping with stepbrothers who wet the bed, surviving in a place that smells like something died. He has not seen his mother in three months, and he doesn’t know why. His world is a world of drugs and violence and unrelenting chaos, and he has the wisdom to know, even at six, that if something does not change for him soon, he might not make it.
Sprinkled throughout the book is also Laura’s own story of her turbulent childhood. Every now and then, something about Maurice's struggles reminds her of her past, how her father’s alcohol-induced rages shaped the person she became and, in a way, led her to Maurice.
He started by cursing my mother and screaming at her in front of all of us. My mother pulled us closer to her and waited for it to pass. But it didn’t. My father left the room and came back with two full liquor bottles. He threw them right over our heads, and they smashed against the wall. Liquor and glass rained down on us, and we pulled up the covers to shield ourselves. My father hurled the next bottle, and then went back for two more. They shattered just above our heads; the sound was sickening. My father kept screaming and ranting, worse than I’d ever heard him before. When he ran out of bottles he went into the kitchen and overturned the table and smashed the chairs. Just then the phone rang, and my mother rushed to get it. I heard her screaming to the caller to get help. My father grabbed the phone from her and ripped the base right out of the wall. My mother ran back to us as my father kept kicking and throwing furniture, unstoppable, out of his mind.
As their friendship grows, Laura offers Maurice simple experiences he comes to treasure: learning how to set a table, trimming a Christmas tree, visiting her nieces and nephew on Long Island, and even having homemade lunches to bring to school.
“If you make me lunch,” he said, “will you put it in a brown paper bag?”
I didn’t really understand the question. "Okay, sure. But why do you want it in a brown paper bag?”
“Because when I see kids come to school with their lunch in a brown paper bag, that means someone cares about them.”
I looked away when Maurice said that, so he wouldn’t see me tear up. A simple brown paper bag, I thought.
To me, it meant nothing. To him, it was everything.
It is the heartwarming story of a friendship that has spanned thirty years, that brought life to an over-scheduled professional who had lost sight of family and happiness and hope to a hungry and desperate boy whose family background in drugs and crime and squalor seemed an inescapable fate.
He had, inside of him, some miraculous reserve of goodness and strength, some fierce will to be special. I saw this in his hopeful face the day he asked for spare change, and I see it in his eyes today. Whatever made me notice him on that street corner so many years ago is clearly something that cannot be extinguished, no matter how relentless the forces aligned against it. Some may call it spirit. Some might call it heart. Whatever it was, it drew me to him, as if we were bound by some invisible, unbreakable thread.
And whatever it is, it binds us still.
Laura Schroff is a former advertising executive who has helped launch three of the most successful start-ups in Time Inc. history—InStyle, Teen People, and People StyleWatch. Schroff has also worked as the New York Division Manager at People magazine and Associate Publisher at Brides. She lives in New York City.
"I thought I knew what An Invisible Thread was going to be. I thought it would be a simple and hopeful story about a woman who saved a boy. I was wrong. It's a complex and unswervingly honest story about a woman and a boy who saved each other. By its raw honesty and lack of excess sentimentality, it is even more inspirational. This is a book capable of restoring our faith in each other and in the very idea that maybe everything is going to be okay after all."
-Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay It Forward and Jumpstart the World
"An Invisible Thread—a remarkable story, told so beautifully and honestly—shows us what's possible when we are not afraid to connect with another human being and tap into our compassion. It is a story about the power each of us has to elevate someone else's life and how our own life is enriched in the process. This special book reminds us that damaging cycles can be broken and not to neglect the humanity of the strangers we brush up against every day."
-Chris Gardner, bestselling author of The Pursuit of Happyness and Start Where You Are
"A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York . . . For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter."
"According to an old Chinese proverb, there's an invisible thread that connects two people who are destined to meet and influence each other's lives. . . . As Schroff relates Maurice's story, she tells of her own father's alcoholism and abuse, and readers see how desperately these two need each other in this feel-good story about the far-reaching benefits of kindness."
"An Invisible Thread is like The Blind Side, but instead of football, it’s food. These are two people who were brought together by one simple meal, and it literally changed the course of both of their lives. This is a must-read . . . you can read it in a day because it’s impossible to put down. If you read it and find it as moving as I did, pay it forward: buy a copy and give it to a friend.”
-Rachael Ray, host of The Rachael Ray Show
“This book is a game-changer . . . each chapter touches your heart. An Invisible Thread is a gift to us all. America needs this book now more than ever.”
-“Coach” Ron Tunick, national radio show host, “The Business of Life”
“An incredible story . . . I would encourage everyone to pick up this book.”
-Clayton Morris, host, Fox & Friends
"If you have a beating heart—or if you fear you’re suffering a hardening of the emotional arteries—you really ought to commit to this book at the earliest possible opportunity . . . read this book. And pass it on. And encourage the next reader to do the same.”
"This is one of the most touching and refreshing and inspiring stories I have read in a long time. If you had made this story up, I wouldn’t have believed it, but it’s true. We all need something to inspire us, and I promise you, this book will make you want to stand up and do something nice for people. What a wonderful and needed story for all of us. An Invisible Thread is fantastic."
-Mike Huckabee, Former Governor of Arkansas, Host of Fox News’s “Huckabee Show”
"A single moment of obedience by an ordinary person started a wonderful relationship and a better life for a poor street child. Maurice started to dream, because Laura showed him compassion and kindness. This is exactly what Jesus is asking his followers to do today in a broken world. An Invisible Thread is an example for each and every one of us, not only in South Africa but in every other country. This book can and will change the world."
-Dr. Johan Smith, Pastor of Moreleta Church in Pretoria, South Africa