A Chance Encounter?

The Christophers’ Jerry Costello shares the story of one of this year’s Christopher Award-winning books:

It was just a chance encounter, an unlikely meeting on a city street between strangers that happened a long time ago. But today the two people who met that way will tell you that it was simply meant to be. And who’s to say they’re wrong? Anyway, here’s how it happened:

One day back in 1986, a 35-year-old newspaper executive named Laura Schroff was walking on a street in Manhattan when she was approached by a boy who asked if she had any spare change. At first she ignored him by simply walking on by, but something made her turn and go back. The boy’s name was Maurice Mazyck, and he was 11. Schroff had no change to give him, but asked him instead if she could buy him a lunch at McDonald’s. Since lunch was the reason he was asking for change to begin with, that was fine with him. And that meal would begin a friendship that has endured down through the years, one that would change both their lives forever.

Laura and Maurice’s story is told in the Christopher Award-winning book “An Invisible Thread” (written by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski). Unlikely might not be the best word to describe Laura and Maurice’s friendship; unbelievable is probably more like it. One was an adult, the other a child; she is white, he’s black; she lived in a luxury high-rise, and he in a welfare hotel. Still their relationship flourished as it grew.

Maurice’s background was troubled: his father a gang member who left home when the boy was 6; his mother a jobless drug addict. “I know my mother did the best she could,” he says today.

Three days after that first meeting, Schroff went looking for the boy, and found him on the same street corner. They agreed to keep meeting once a week, and while she first took him out to eat eventually she brought him home and cooked for him there. It was there, too, that he found a completely different world: setting the table, doing laundry, conversing. Soon she was doing things she had missed out on in her own childhood–taking him to his first baseball game, buying him a bike, letting him decorate his first Christmas tree.

Unlikely it might have been, but the friendship brought something to both Schroff and young Maurice Mazcyk. He accepted her offer to fix him a lunch to bring to school, but asked that she put it in a brown bag. “When kids see you walk in with a paper bag,” he explained, “they know someone cares about you.” What about Laura Schroff? “Sometimes blessings are right in front of you, just as Maurice was in front of me,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to open your eyes and open your heart.”

With an interruption or two, this is a friendship that has gone on and on. When Mazcyk’s mother died, he told Schroff she was his mother now. A 37-year-old with his own construction firm, he’s married and has seven children. The family has Schroff over for dinner once a month, often around the same kind of big table he remembers she showed him as a boy.

Looking back today, Laura Schroff reflects on why she went looking for Maurice after that first meeting: “I felt like he’d entered my life for a reason.”

Just a chance encounter? Maybe. And maybe, too, a lot more.

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