The Kindness That Changed Two Lives

Today’s entry is a column penned by The Christophers’ Jerry Costello about a local story that caught his eye and moved his heart:

One of the cornerstones of Christopher life is the old Chinese saying that became our motto: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” It not only makes sense; it’s something you can do in a hundred different ways. One of them is to take an interest in someone else, and that’s exactly what Susan Porcello did a couple of years ago. And when she did, it made all the difference in the world.

That’s New York Police Officer Susan Porcello of the 68th Precinct, to be precise, and Daily News writer Denis Hamill told her story in a column last November. It seems that back in 2008 she and her partner responded to a 911 ambulance call that took them to a one-bedroom apartment at a Brooklyn address. There they found Gaspar Musso, an elderly diabetic who lived alone. He told them that he needed help, and that he had no family or friends. Officer Porcello felt she had to say something, and it was a simple statement. “Well,” she told Musso, “I’m your friend.”

As Hamill wrote, those four magical words of human kindness would forever change both their lives. The first order of business was attending to Musso’s health needs, which were significant. He had accidentally overdosed on his diabetes medication, so Officer Porcello got him to Lutheran Medical Center and made sure he received prompt and caring attention. As they talked, she promised the man that she’d take him to a senior center and find him some friends.

“I told him I was making him my Grandpa,” she recalled, “and if he liked, he could spend Thanksgiving with my family.” In his apartment she had also seen evidence of his World War II service with the Marine Corps, and resolved to find out more about that.

Meanwhile Musso’s health faltered, and while he was in critical care Porcello not only became his proxy but also did some checking for herself. An only child, born in 1924, Musso had no living relatives. His lone friend had died not long before. And he was indeed a Marine veteran, having seen combat on the South Pacific island of Tinian in 1944. That impressed Office Porcello, who promised herself he’d never be buried in Potter’s Field.

The old Marine rebounded, though, and when the hospital released him Porcello saw to it that he was admitted to a first-class nursing home in Brooklyn. There she visited him several times a week, reading to him and otherwise seeing to his needs. Musso perked up, and on a visit 10 days before Thanksgiving he eagerly accepted Porcello’s invitation to join her family for a holiday dinner. The next morning the officer received a call from the nursing home with sorrowful news: Mr. Musso had died in his sleep the night before.

Her work wasn’t done, however. First, she paid for his wake and burial. Then she recruited six of her fellow officers from the 68th Precinct who would serve as pallbearers at his funeral Mass. Finally, at Musso’s burial in Staten Island, next to his mother, she made sure that a Marine honor guard played Taps over his flag-draped coffin.

Officer Susan Porcello truly set an example for all of us. In lighting one candle, she brightened the last days of one man, a member of that “Greatest Generation” for which we can never do enough. And in the process, just as a full-fledged Christopher should, she lit up the entire world.

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