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When I was a child, my grandfather owned the Columbo Hotel on Broadway. Most of the hotel residents were single immigrant men. Out of the many who informally adopted me, was a man named Fuji. Fuji  worked as a dishwasher. He always wore a fedora hat and a tattered vinyl raincoat and spoke with a raspy Japanese accent. He couldn't afford dental work and I can still visualize his broad toothless smiling face. Fuji always greeted me with that whole-hearted smile and gave me a dime or a quart or two of ice cream. He would then leave quietly into the neighborhood of Chinatown-North Beach. I was an attention-deprived child, so I always looked forward to seeing Fuji.

Eventually, my grandfather sold the hotel and I stopped visiting. But Fuji did not stop. Instead he would trek up to our home and deliver his usual quarts of ice cream to my sister and me. I don't have any idea how many kids who were fortunate enough to have been on the receiving end of Fuji's kindness, but I can guess that numerous other children were blessed by this generous soul. What stayed with me wasn't so much what he gave, but  the genuine joy he experienced in the very act of giving. Perhaps, we were the family he left behind or never had because he immigrated here alone. Nevertheless, it's been more than four decades, and I still remember him and his generosity and loving kindness the likes of which I have seldom encountered since.

I was too young to understand how profound this gift was, much less thank him for it. If I could, today I would thank him for his kind and sweet soul and for teaching me a man can be rich in compassion and loving kindness in spite of very meager possessions. I'd also tell him that he made a lasting difference in my life. I chose to become a psychotherapist, and while too often I never really know if I have made a difference in my clients' life, I trust that small acts of loving kindness can make a lifetime of difference.

Perhaps this is the truth of grace, humility, and altruism -- to pay it forward without the need to know what it accomplishes.

With a holiday Perspective, I'm Larry Jin Lee.


Larry Jin Lee is a psychotherapist, diversity trainer and father of two.