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An Invisible Thread tells of the life-long friendship between a busy sales executive and a disadvantaged young boy, and how both of their lives were changed by what began as one small gesture of kindness.
When Laura Schroff brushed by a young panhandler on a New York City corner one rainy afternoon, something made her stop and turn back. She took the boy to lunch at the McDonald’s across the street that day. And she continued to go back, again and again for the next four years until both their lives had changed dramatically. Nearly thirty years later, that young boy, Maurice, is married and has his own family. Now he works to change the lives of disadvantaged kids, just like the boy he used to be.
An Invisible Thread is the true story of the bond between a harried sales executive and an eleven-year-old boy who seemed destined for a life of poverty. It is the heartwarming story of a friendship that has spanned three decades and brought meaning to an over-scheduled professional and hope to a hungry and desperate boy living on the streets.
|Product dimensions:||5.58(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.69(d)|
About the Author
Laura Schroff is a former advertising executive who has worked with several major media companies, including Time Inc. and Conde Nast. Born and raised on Long Island, Laura was part of the advertising team that made USA Today a successful national newspaper. Before helping launch three of the most successful start-ups in Time Inc. history—InStyle, Teen People, and People StyleWatch—she was also the New York Division Manager at People magazine. Laura has also been the New York Ad Manager at Ms. magazine and Associate Publisher at Brides. Laura loves spending time at her condo on Long Island and visiting with her family in New York and Florida. She lives in New York City with her feisty poodle Coco.
Alex Tresniowski is a writer living and working in New York City. He has been a senior writer for People Magazine since 1998, writing numerous cover stories and focusing on human interest, crime, and sports. He is also the author of six books, including 2005’s The Vendetta, a true crime story that was purchased by Universal Pictures and used as a basis for the 2009 Johnny Depp movie Public Enemies.
Read an Excerpt
The boy stands alone on a sidewalk in Brooklyn and this is what he sees: a woman running for her life, and another woman chasing her with a hammer. He recognizes one woman as his father’s girlfriend. The other, the one with the hammer, he doesn’t know.
The boy is stuck in something like hell. He is six years old and covered in small red bites from chinches—bedbugs—and he is woefully skinny due to an unchecked case of ringworm. He is so hungry his stomach hurts, but then being hungry is nothing new to him. When he was two years old the pangs got so bad he rooted through the trash and ate rat droppings and had to have his stomach pumped. He is staying in his father’s cramped, filthy apartment in a desolate stretch of Brooklyn, sleeping with stepbrothers who wet the bed, surviving in a place that smells like death. 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.
He does not pray, does not know how, but he thinks, Please don’t let my father let me die. And this thought, in a way, is its own little prayer.
And then the boy sees his father come up the block, and the woman with the hammer sees him too, and she screams, “Junebug, where is my son?!”
The boy recognizes this voice, and he says, “Mom?”
The woman with the hammer looks down at the boy, and she looks puzzled, until she looks harder and finally says, “Maurice?”
The boy didn’t recognize his mother because her teeth had fallen out from smoking dope.
The mother didn’t recognize her son because he was shriveled from the ringworm.
Now she is chasing Junebug and yelling, “Look what you did to my baby!”
The boy should be frightened, or confused, but more than anything what the boy feels is happiness. He is happy that his mother has come back to get him, and because of that he is not going to die—at least not now, at least not in this place.
He will remember this as the moment when he knew his mother loved him.
© 2011 Laura Schroff
“Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change?”
This was the first thing he said to me, on 56th Street in New York City, right around the corner from Broadway, on a sunny September day.
And 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.
I came back and I looked at him, and I realized he was just a boy. Earlier, out of the corner of my eye, I had noticed he was young. But now, looking at him, I saw that he was a child—tiny body, sticks for arms, big round eyes. He wore a burgundy sweatshirt that was smudged and frayed and ratty burgundy sweatpants to match. He had scuffed white sneakers with untied laces, and his fingernails were dirty. But his eyes were bright and there was a general sweetness about him. He was, I would soon learn, eleven years old.
He stretched his palm toward me, and he asked again, “Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change? I am hungry.”
What I said in response may have surprised him, but it really shocked me.
“If you’re hungry,” I said, “I’ll take you to McDonald’s and buy you lunch.”
“Can I have a cheeseburger?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“How about a Big Mac?”
“That’s okay, too.”
“How about a Diet Coke?”
“Yes, that’s okay.”
“Well, how about a thick chocolate shake and French fries?”
I told him he could have anything he wanted. And then I asked him if I could join him for lunch.
He thought about it for a second.
“Sure,” he finally said.
We had lunch together that day, at McDonald’s.
And after that, we got together every Monday.
For the next 150 Mondays.
His name is Maurice, and he changed my life.
Why did I stop and go back to Maurice? It is easier for me to tell you why I ignored him in the first place. I ignored him, very simply, because he wasn’t in my schedule.
You see, I am a woman whose life runs on schedules. I make appointments, I fill slots, I micromanage the clock. I bounce around from meeting to meeting, ticking things off a list. I am not merely punctual; I am fifteen minutes early for any and every engagement. This is how I live; it is who I am—but some things in life do not fit neatly into a schedule.
Rain, for example. On the day I met Maurice—September 1, 1986—a huge storm swept over the city, and I awoke to darkness and hammering rain. It was Labor Day weekend and the summer was slipping away, but I had tickets to the U.S. Open tennis tournament that afternoon—box seats, three rows from center court. I wasn’t a big tennis fan, but I loved having such great seats; to me, the tickets were tangible evidence of how successful I’d become. In 1986 I was thirty-five years old and an advertising sales executive for USA Today, and I was very good at what I did, which was building relationships through sheer force of personality. Maybe I wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be in my life—after all, I was still single, and another summer had come and gone without me finding that someone special—but by any standard I was doing pretty well. Taking clients to the Open and sitting courtside for free was just another measure of how far this girl from a working-class Long Island town had come.
But then the rains washed out the day, and by noon the Open had been postponed. I puttered around my apartment, tidied up a bit, made some calls, and read the paper until the rain finally let up in mid-afternoon. I grabbed a sweater and dashed out for a walk. I may not have had a destination, but I had a definite purpose—to enjoy the fall chill in the air and the peeking sun on my face, to get a little exercise, to say good-bye to summer. Stopping was never part of the plan.
And so, when Maurice spoke to me, I just kept going. Another thing to remember is that this was New York in the 1980s, a time when vagrants and panhandlers were as common a sight in the city as kids on bikes or moms with strollers. The nation was enjoying an economic boom, and on Wall Street new millionaires were minted every day. But the flip side was a widening gap between the rich and the poor, and nowhere was this more evident than on the streets of New York City. Whatever wealth was supposed to trickle down to the middle class did not come close to reaching the city’s poorest, most desperate people, and for many of them the only recourse was living on the streets. After a while you got used to the sight of them—hard, gaunt men and sad, haunted women, wearing rags, camped on corners, sleeping on grates, asking for change. It is tough to imagine anyone could see them and not feel deeply moved by their plight. Yet they were just so prevalent that most people made an almost subconscious decision to simply look the other way—to, basically, ignore them. The problem seemed so vast, so endemic, that stopping to help a single panhandler could feel all but pointless. And so we swept past them every day, great waves of us going on with our lives and accepting that there was nothing we could really do to help.
There had been one homeless man I briefly came to know the winter before I met Maurice. His name was Stan, and he lived on the street off Sixth Avenue, not far from my apartment. Stan was a stocky guy in his midforties who owned a pair of wool gloves, a navy blue skullcap, old work shoes, and a few other things stuffed into plastic shopping bags, certainly not any of the simple creature comforts we take for granted—a warm blanket, for instance, or a winter coat. He slept on a subway grate, and the steam from the trains kept him alive.
One day I asked if he’d like a cup of coffee, and he answered that he would, with milk and four sugars, please. And it became part of my routine to bring him a cup of coffee on the way to work. I’d ask Stan how he was doing and I’d wish him good luck, until one morning he was gone and the grate was just a grate again, not Stan’s spot. And just like that he vanished from my life, without a hint of what happened to him. I felt sad that he was no longer there and I often wondered what became of him, but I went on with my life and over time I stopped thinking about Stan. I hate to believe my compassion for him and others like him was a casual thing, but if I’m really honest with myself, I’d have to say that it was. I cared, but I didn’t care enough to make a real change in my life to help. I was not some heroic do-gooder. I learned, like most New Yorkers, to tune out the nuisance.
Then came Maurice. I walked past him to the corner, onto Broadway, and, halfway to the other side in the middle of the avenue, just stopped. I stood there for a few moments, in front of cars waiting for the light to change, until a horn sounded and startled me. I turned around and hustled back to the sidewalk. I don’t remember thinking about it or even making a conscious decision to turn around. I just remember doing it.
Looking back all these years later, I believe there was a strong, unseen connection that pulled me back to Maurice. It’s something I call an invisible thread. It is, as the old Chinese proverb tells us, something that connects two people who are destined to meet, regardless of time and place and circumstance. Some legends call it the red string of fate; others, the thread of destiny. It is, I believe, what brought Maurice and I to the same stretch of sidewalk in a vast, teeming city—just two people out of eight million, somehow connected, somehow meant to be friends.
Look, neither of us is a superhero, nor even especially virtuous. When we met we were just two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams. But somehow we found each other, and we became friends.
And that, you will see, made all the difference for us both.
© 2011 Laura Schroff
We walked across the avenue to the McDonald’s, and for the first few moments neither of us spoke. This thing we were doing—going to lunch, a couple of strangers, an adult and a child—it was weird, and we both felt it.
Finally, I said, “Hi, I’m Laura.”
“I’m Maurice,” he said.
We got in line and I ordered the meal he’d asked for—Big Mac, fries, thick chocolate shake—and I got the same for myself. We found a table and sat down, and Maurice tore into his food. He’s famished, I thought. Maybe he doesn’t know when he will eat again. It took him just a few minutes to pack it all away. When he was done, he asked where I lived. We were sitting by the side window and could see my apartment building, the Symphony, from our table, so I pointed and said, “Right there.”
“Do you live in a hotel, too?” he asked.
“No,” I said, “it’s an apartment.”
“Like the Jeffersons?”
“Oh, the TV show. Not as big. It’s just a studio. Where do you live?”
He hesitated for a moment before telling me he lived at the Bryant, a welfare hotel on West 54th Street and Broadway.
I couldn’t believe he lived just two blocks from my apartment. One street was all that separated our worlds.
I would later learn that the simple act of telling me where he lived was a leap of faith for Maurice. He was not in the habit of trusting adults, much less white adults. If I had thought about it I might have realized no one had ever stopped to talk to him, or asked him where he lived, or been nice to him, or bought him lunch. Why wouldn’t he be suspicious of me? How could he be sure I wasn’t a Social Services worker trying to take him away from his family? When he went home later and told one of his uncles some woman had taken him to McDonald’s, the uncle said, “She is trying to snatch you. Stay away from her. Stay off that corner, in case she comes back.”
I figured I should tell Maurice something about myself. Part of me felt that taking him to lunch was a good thing to do, but another part wasn’t entirely comfortable with it. After all, he was a child and I was a stranger, and hadn’t children everywhere been taught not to follow strangers? Was I crossing some line here? I imagine some will say what I did was flat-out wrong. All I can say is, in my heart, I believe it was the only thing I could have done in that situation. Still, I understand how people might be skeptical. So I figured if I told him something about myself, I wouldn’t be such a stranger.
“I work at USA Today,” I said.
I could tell he had no idea what that meant. I explained it was a newspaper, and that it was new, and that we were trying to be the first national newspaper in the country. I told him my job was selling advertising, which was how the newspaper paid for itself. None of this cleared things up.
“What do you do all day?” he asked.
Ah, he wanted to know my schedule. I ran through it for him—sales calls, meetings, working lunches, presentations, sometimes client dinners.
“Yes, every day.”
“Do you ever miss a day?”
“If I’m sick,” I said. “But I’m rarely sick.”
“But you never just not do it one day?”
“No, never. That’s my job. And besides, I really like what I do.”
Maurice could barely grasp what I was saying. Only later would I learn that until he got to know me, he had never known anyone with a job.
There was something else I didn’t know about Maurice as I sat across from him that day. I didn’t know that in the pocket of his sweatpants he had a knife.
Not a knife, actually, but a small razor-blade box cutter. He had stolen it from a Duane Reade on Broadway. It was a measure of my inability to fathom his world that I never thought for a single moment he might be carrying a weapon. The idea of a weapon in his delicate little hands was incomprehensible to me. It never dawned on me that he could even use one, much less that he might truly need one to protect himself from the violence that permeated his life.
For a good part of Maurice’s childhood, the greatest harm he faced came from the man who gave him life.
Maurice’s father wasn’t around for very long, but in that short time he was an inordinately damaging presence—an out-of-control buzz saw you couldn’t shut off. He was also named Maurice, after his own absentee dad, but when he was born no one knew how to spell it so he became Morris. It wasn’t long before most people called him Lefty anyway, because, although he was right-handed, it was his left that he used to knock people out.
Morris was just five foot two, but his size only made him tougher, more aggressive, as if he had something to prove every minute of every day. In the notoriously dangerous east Brooklyn neighborhood where he lived—a one-square-mile tract known as Brownsville, birthplace of the nefarious 1940s gang Murder Inc. and later home to some of the roughest street gangs in the country—Morris was one of the most feared men of all.
As a member of the infamous Tomahawks street gang, Morris was a stick-up man, and he was brazenly good at it. He even routinely robbed people he knew. There was a dice game on Howard Avenue—fifteen or twenty people, piles of tens and twenties in a pot—and Morris sometimes liked to play. One night he announced he was robbing the game. Ain’t nobody takin’ nothin’ from me, one man said. Morris hit him once in the face with the butt of his gun and knocked him out, then scooped up several hundred dollars and walked away. No one else said a word. The next day Morris leaned against a car in front of his building, smiling as the very people he had robbed walked by. He was daring them to say something. No one did.
Morris finally met his match in a spark plug named Darcella. Slender and pretty, with light skin and soft features, Darcella was one of eleven children born to Rose, a single mother from Baltimore who moved her family to the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn. Darcella grew up surrounded by brothers and wound up as tough as any of them; she was known to fight anyone who crossed her, male or female, throwing blizzards of punches and never seeming to tire. People weren’t sure if she was crazy or just mean. In her teens she was one of the few female members of the Tomahawks, and she wore the gang’s black leather jacket with pride.
Then she fell for a gang member who impressed her with his swagger. They were never a good match, Morris and Darcella. They were both too explosive, too much like each other, but they became a couple anyway. She called him Junebug, evolved from Junior, since technically he was Maurice, Jr. He called her Red, from Red Bone, a nickname for fair-skinned black women. They had three children, all before Darcella turned twenty. First came two daughters, Celeste and LaToya. And then a son—a boy she named Maurice.
Sadly for Maurice and his sisters, the language his parents understood best was a discourse of violent action, not words. Morris, in particular, was a heavy drug user and an alcoholic, and coke, dope, and Wild Irish Rose easily triggered his rages. When he came home at all, it was to rail at his family with both curses and fists. He would routinely slap his daughters in the head; one time, he hit Celeste so hard he ruptured her eardrum. He would slap and push and punch Darcella with the same ruthless efficiency that terrified everyone in Brownsville, and he would slap and punch Maurice, his only son. When the boy would cry, he would say, “Shut up, punk,” and hit him again.
Morris would disappear for days to be with his girlfriend, Diane, then come home and warn Darcella not to even look at another man. Morris’s infidelity finally pushed her too far, and she packed up her children and found an apartment in the notorious Marcy Projects in Bed-Stuy. A complex of twenty-seven six-story buildings on nearly thirty acres, with some 1,700 apartments housing more than 4,000 people, the Marcy was riddled with drugs and violence, hardly anyone’s idea of a sanctuary. But for Darcella it was a place to escape an even greater threat.
Morris found them anyway. One night he burst into their apartment and demanded to talk to Darcella. “Red, I can’t let you leave me,” he said, crying. “I love you.” With young Maurice watching, Darcella stood her ground.
“I’m not havin’ it,” she said. “You’re no good; get out.”
Morris cocked his left fist and punched Darcella in the face.
She fell to the floor, and Maurice grabbed hold of his father’s leg to stop him from hitting her again. Morris flicked the boy against a wall. That, it turned out, was a mistake: Darcella saw her son on the ground, ran to the kitchen, and came out with a steak knife.
Morris didn’t flinch. It was hardly the first time he’d found himself at the point of a knife. “What you gonna do with that?” he asked.
Darcella lunged toward his chest. His arms came up to defend himself, so she stabbed him in the arms. She stabbed him again and again as he tried to block the blows, and finally he staggered into the hallway and fell, covered in blood, crying, “Red, you stabbed me! You tried to kill me! I don’t believe you did this!”
Maurice, wide-eyed, watched it all. Finally, the police came and asked Morris who had attacked him so savagely.
“Some guys,” is all he said.
And with that, Morris limped away. Maurice, just five years old, watched his father go. His family, as he knew it, was no more.
My first lunch with Maurice was over thirty minutes after it began, but I didn’t want to say good-bye to Maurice just yet. When we stepped out into the street, the sun was bright and strong, so I asked Maurice if he wanted to take a walk in Central Park.
“Okay,” he said with a shrug.
We walked into the south end of the park and strolled along a path toward the Great Lawn. Bicyclists, joggers, mothers and toddlers, laughing teenagers, everyone, it seemed, was carefree. Once again, we didn’t say much; we just walked side by side. I wanted to know more about him and about the circumstances that led him to begging in the street but I held back, because I didn’t want him to think I was snooping around.
I did ask him one thing.
“So, Maurice, what about you? What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I don’t know,” he said without hesitation.
“No? Don’t you ever think about it?”
“No,” he replied flatly.
Maurice didn’t spend his days dreaming of becoming a policeman, or an astronaut, or a shortstop, or the president; he didn’t even know these were dreams most boys have. And even if he could have imagined a life for himself beyond the misery that was his world, what would have been the point of dreaming about that life? There was nothing Maurice wanted to be, because there was no reason to believe he could be anything except what he was—a scrounger, a beggar, a street kid.
In the park there was a brisk fall breeze, leaves fluttered away from trees, and the sun peeked through the giant elms. We seemed a million miles away from the concrete core of the city. I didn’t ask Maurice any more questions. I just let him enjoy this break from his street routine. When we left the park, we passed a Häagen-Dazs, and I asked him if he wanted some ice cream.
“Can I get a chocolate cone?” he asked.
“You bet,” I said.
I ordered two cones, and when I handed one to him, I saw Maurice smile for the very first time. It was not a big smile, not wide and toothy like you see with most kids. It was quick to appear and just as quick to vanish. But it happened, and I saw it, and it seemed to me like a beautiful, shiny new thing.
When we finished our ice cream I asked, “Is there anything else you want to do?”
“Can we go play video games?”
“Sure we can.” So we walked to an arcade on Broadway. I gave Maurice a few quarters and watched him play Asteroids. He lost himself in the game like any kid would. He jerked the joystick and stuck out his tongue and stood on his toes and made noises as he blew up things with his spaceship missiles. It was fun to watch him play.
Later that day, it occurred to me that buying lunch for Maurice and spending a couple of hours with him had made me feel—at very little expense in time and money—inordinately good. And that, in turn, made me feel guilty. Was the only reason I had stopped and bought him lunch to make myself feel good for a while? Had I, instead of window-shopping or going to a movie, chosen to divert myself by buying Maurice a burger and an ice cream? Was there something inherently patronizing about what I did, something maybe even exploitative?
Help out a poor kid, feel better about your own life?
I didn’t have the answers back then. All I knew was that being with Maurice felt right. We left the arcade and strolled down Broadway, winding up on 56th Street, right where we had met. I opened my purse and handed Maurice my business card.
“Look, if you’re ever hungry, please call me and I’ll make sure you have something to eat.”
Maurice took the card, looked at it, and stuffed it in his pocket.
“Thank you for my lunch and my Häagen-Dazs,” he said. “I had a great day.”
“Me too,” I said. And then he went one way, and I went another.
I wondered if I would ever see Maurice again. Certainly there was a very good chance I wouldn’t. At that time, I didn’t know how tough things were for Maurice, how truly dire his family life was. If I had, I don’t think I’d have let him walk away. I think I might have hugged him and never let go.
But I did walk away, and when I turned around to look for him in the bustle of Broadway, he was already gone, invisible again. I had to accept he might be out of my life for good—that our strange little friendship was over just as it was beginning.
Yet I believed then and I believe now that there is something in the universe that brings people who need each other together. There is something that helps two wildly disparate people somehow forge a bond. Maybe it is precisely the thing that haunts us most that makes us reach out to others we think can provide some solace. Maybe it was my own past that made me turn around and find Maurice that day. And maybe, just maybe, that invisible thread of fate would bring us back together again.
And then, as I walked back home, I felt a surge of regret, because, while I had given Maurice my business card, I hadn’t given him a quarter for the call. This was way before cell phones, and I couldn’t be sure he had a landline in his apartment. If he wanted to reach me he’d likely have to use a pay phone, which meant he would have to beg for the quarter.
But in the end it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Because on the way home Maurice threw my business card in the trash.
© 2011 Laura Schroff
Table of Contents
Foreword Valerie Salembier xi
1 Spare Change 1
2 The First Day 7
3 One Good Break 17
4 The Birthday Present 25
5 The Baseball Glove 35
6 Is That It? 43
7 A Mothers Song 50
8 J Father's Legacy 68
9 The Brown Paper Bag 81
10 The Big Table 100
11 The Missed Appointment 115
12 Outside Looking In 125
13 Bittersweet Miracle 137
14 A Simple Recipe 149
15 The New Bicycle 157
16 The Winter Coat 175
17 The Dark Forest 193
18 One Last Test 205
19 The Greatest Gift 217
Epilogue: Love, Maurice 227
What People are Saying About This
"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.
“An incredible story . . . I would encourage everyone to pick up this book.”
"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.
"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.”
"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.”
"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.
"[A] feel-good story about the far-reaching benefits of kindness." -Publishers Weekly
“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.”
"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.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for An Invisible Thread includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Laura Schroff. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
It could have ended with a passing glance. He could have been just another panhandler, and she could have been one of many New Yorkers who simply walks on by. Instead, Laura Schroff stopped and bought lunch for eleven-year-old Maurice. From that day, their unique bond evolved into a profound friendship that changed the course of their lives in ways neither could have imagined.
TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. An Invisible Thread introduces readers to some of the realities of poor families living in large metropolitan cities. How would you characterize Maurice’s family life? What kind of differences do you think exist between urban and rural poverty?
2. Why do you think Maurice throws Laura’s business card away? How does trust influence the early stages of their friendship? What about later in their relationship
3. Laura’s grandfather would say “Il solo tempo lei dovrebbe baciare i sue bambini in quango dormono,” or “The only time you should kiss your children is when they are asleep.” What kind of role does love and affection play in Maurice's life? What about Laura’s?
4. Why is Laura so adamant about obtaining permission from Maurice’s mother so he can attend the Mets game?
5. In what ways is privilege evident in An Invisible Thread? What types of privilege can you identify? How would you compare and contrast this privilege in the 1980s with today?
6. Why do you think Laura stayed with Michael, even though he denied her what she wanted more than anything?
7. Laura’s family life growing up had a significant impact on her and her siblings, especially in terms of what they wanted for their own families. Based on Laura’s descriptions, how would you characterize the lives of the siblings’ individual families?
8. Laura writes that, “Sometimes we are drawn to that which is exactly the same” alluding to the impact that familiarity can have on one’s comfort, regardless of how bad the conditions may be. How does Laura’s life stray from this idea? How does she embrace what is different?
9. How did you interpret Michael’s initial rejection of Maurice? What role did this rejection play in Laura’s decision to divorce him?
10. The title, An Invisible Thread suggests several meanings about the bonds that connect us with others. Describe how these themes are reflected in Maurice’s and Laura’s lives, as well as in their relationships with other people.
11. Laura later discovers that Maurice was actually twelve when they first met, not eleven, because he wasn’t even sure himself how old he was. How does this detail signify the importance of identity in An Invisible Thread?
12. Laura was initially careful to maintain boundaries between her and Maurice, ensuring that she was a friend to him and nothing more. At what point do you think their relationship changed from a friendship to something more akin to a mother and a son?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Rituals are an important element of An Invisible Thread. Take a moment to discuss your favorite ritual with your book club as a child and explain why it was so important to you, even to this day.
2. Pack up your book club for a day and see a baseball game. Reflect on Maurice’s feelings of wonderment at his first baseball game. What is your favorite part of a baseball game or of attending a sporting event?
3. Using a smartphone, scan the Microsoft Tag in the back of An Invisible Thread, and watch Maurice’s toast at Laura’s fiftieth birthday dinner. Discuss the highlights and your reaction among your book club.
A CONVERSATION WITH LAURA L. SCHROFF
What made you want to write down your experience with Maurice and share it with others?
In 1997, Good Housekeeping wrote a short article about my relationship with Maurice, and I received an overwhelming response from friends and colleagues in the ad community. I was continually told I should write a book and document our story. People loved the story and wanted to know more. But it was not until 2007, after I took an early retirement package from Time Inc. and moved to Florida, that I had enough time to begin contemplating the book. In the first few years that I was friends with Maurice it never dawned on me that our story would be of any interest to other people, but as I started working on the book with my co-author Alex Tresniowski I began to realize there was a powerful message in the experiences Maurice and I shared. And so I became determined to share our story with the world.
What were some of the challenges of writing An Invisible Thread? What did you enjoy most about this experience?
I knew from the very beginning I needed someone like Alex to help me write my book. I mean, I knew what I wanted to say, and I knew what message I wanted the book to have, but I needed someone to help me shape and structure the story. It’s kind of amazing to me how much effort and research goes into creating a book. The challenge for me was remaining faithful to the experiences Maurice and I shared while also making the story as dramatic and compelling for readers as possible. I wanted the book to convey how amazing and emotional and miraculous it was that Maurice and I found each other. It was also a challenge to relive all of the difficult moments of my childhood. That was harder and sadder than I thought it would be. But it was also kind of a blessing to be able to revisit my childhood and put it in some kind of context.
What I enjoyed most about the process of writing An Invisible Thread was just that—the process. Sometimes I still find it hard to believe our story will be read by so many people and hopefully have an impact on people’s lives. Reliving my incredible friendship with Maurice, his wife, Michelle, and their children, and working with Alex, has been nothing less than remarkable. There are no words to describe the support I received from my family and friends and how truly fortunate I am. It has been the most astonishing experience of my life and it confirms to me, and I hope to all of you too, how important it is to dream big dreams, as dreams really do come true. You must know that I was really the least likely person to ever publish a book, and yet here I am.
Did you ever second-guess the friendship you had with Maurice? Did comments and concerns from friends ever make you reevaluate your instincts?
You know, maybe I should have, but the truth is I never did. I knew the very first time I met Maurice that he was a very special child; he had the most trusting face and eyes. In the early stages of our friendship, my friends and family urged me to be careful and told me all the reasons why I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing. But I just always believed Maurice was a really good kid in a truly horrific situation, and that he came into my life for a special reason. And Maurice never gave me a single reason to doubt or mistrust him, so I never really questioned what I was doing.
Going into your marriage with Michael, why didn’t you make it clear to him that you wanted to have children? And did having Maurice in your life make it easier to deal with the disappointment of not having a child?
Michael and I were just so compatible, and we were having so much fun getting to know each other, that I guess I just didn’t want to complicate things by bringing up the matter of children. Obviously, in retrospect, this was a big mistake, and I would urge every couple to have these serious conversations prior to getting married. But I was so deliriously happy to have met Michael, and to have this second chance at happiness, that it never dawned on me that we would not have a family of our own. Ultimately, when I turned forty-four, I realized having a child at my age could be a selfish act on my part. By then, Michael and I would both be older parents and I believed it would be unfair to the child. After all, I lost my mother when I was only twenty-five, and I knew firsthand how difficult it was not to have a mother in those later years. And so, finally, I gave up the dream of having a child. Was it painful? Very much so. If I think about it for too long it still makes me sad. And, no, having Maurice in my life did not immediately help me deal with the grief I felt about not having a child. You see, I was feeling a lot of guilt about marrying Michael and moving up to Westchester, which fundamentally changed the nature of my relationship with Maurice. And so, in a way, I had to deal with the pain of losing Maurice and not having a child all at the same time. But prior to my meeting Michael, and now, at this point in my life, Maurice was and is the child I always wanted and dreamed of having.
How do you think your life would be different if you had never turned around that day you met Maurice?
Quite simply, my life would be a lot emptier had I not turned around that day. I mean, there’s just so much pleasure and happiness that Maurice has brought into my life, and just so many ways he changed how I thought about my life and particularly my childhood. The times we spent together just talking, baking cookies and doing our Monday night rituals was incredibly rewarding. He didn’t realize it then, and neither did I, but he was a child teaching an adult the true meaning of love and trust and friendship. I used to say to my family and friends all the time, we all need to meet a child like Maurice to help open up our eyes and to see how truly fortunate we are and how the other side lives. It sounds kind of selfish, but Maurice helped me deal with a lot of difficult issues in my life, a lot of difficult memories. And of all my achievements in life, there is nothing that makes me feel more proud than to call Maurice my friend and the son I never had. I can only hope he has gotten as much out of our relationship as I have.
Why was it so important for you to maintain a certain distance between you and Maurice, such that you only wanted to remain his friend and not create a mother-son dynamic? How did this ultimately shape your relationship?
Early on I believed it was very important for me not to try to replace Maurice’s mother. The truth is, he had a mother, and he loved her very much, and I am sure she loved him very much. And I did not want to change that, or get in the way of Maurice’s relationship with his mother. I mean, she wasn’t always there for him, and she made bad choices, but I wasn’t living in her shoes and I didn’t understand the challenges she was facing, and so I never wanted to make life any harder for her. All I wanted was to help Maurice any way I could, as a friend. And I know to this day Maurice loves his mother and is proud of her for doing what she could to raise her children. And I am so glad that he is.
But as our relationship developed, I can’t deny that we developed a mother-son bond. I mean, just the way I am around him, even today, telling him to do this or that, reminding him to be on time—I’m very mothering with him, and he’s thirty-six now! Even back then, there were times I thought about what it would be like to adopt Maurice, and have him come live with me, and of course I dreamed that Michael and I would take him into our home. But I think our relationship played out exactly as it was supposed to play out. I think because I didn’t try to replace his mother, we were able to become great friends as well as a kind of mother and son.
You often remark on how wonderful it was to witness Maurice experience the simple pleasure of childhood experiences. Were you afforded these same joys as a child? Were there any experiences you wanted to give to Maurice that you yourself never had?
Our experiences growing up were very different. As a child in a middle-class family I never worried about having a toothbrush, or where my next meal would come from, or having a winter coat or a bed to sleep in. For Maurice, the joys I gave him were the ones I took for granted. I was blessed with a very strong and loving mother and a hard working father who kept a roof over our heads. I mean, I know now and I knew back then that my childhood was very different from my friends’ childhoods. But in our own dysfunctional way my family was a loving family, with an enormous amount of support. But there was one thing neither Maurice nor I had as young children, and that was a sense of security, a place to escape the chaos. And that’s what I wanted to give Maurice when I met him—a feeling that he had someplace to go where he was safe and protected and loved and cared for.
How do you think your family upbringing impacted the way you interacted with Maurice?
I believed it was essential to give Maurice as much structure as possible through our weekly rituals, as this was something I yearned for as a child. I wanted things to be the same, to not change, to not have to move all the time and see our lives turned upside down. That’s probably one of the most important messages of the book—the value of simple little rituals in a child’s life. Consistency was something I thought about often and tried to provide Maurice. My father was a great father some of the time, and a bad father some of the time. And I wanted to consistently be there for Maurice, to be dependable.
However, the most important thing I wanted to give Maurice was confidence. I truly believe it is one of the most important gifts parents or a caregiver can give a child. As hard as my upbringing was, and even though I was a terrible student, somewhere along the way I became an extremely confident person. I’m not sure how, but I did. And my poor brother Frank, he never developed that confidence because of the relationship he had with our father. And in many ways that lack of confidence doomed him. I believe confidence is what helps you dream and achieve those dreams, so I wanted Maurice to know how extraordinary he was, and for him to want something different for himself and ultimately for his family some day. Maurice was such an insightful child, such a smart boy, and one of the biggest obstacles in his life was that no one had ever told him that. You have to tell your child over and over how special they are, and no one did that for Maurice. I really believe if a child has one person they can truly count on and who they know truly loves them, it makes all the difference in their life. I hoped I could be that one person for Maurice.
You write that your mother was the guiding light that directed you toward Maurice. How would she have felt about Maurice?
My mother would have absolutely loved Maurice. She would have been so proud of his character, his strength, and his ability to understand at a very young age the power of right and wrong. She would have admired how he had the innate awareness to want to take his life down a different path, and how he had the perseverance to overcome the difficult challenges he faced. I also think how my mother would have respected Maurice for never trying to sabotage a good thing because he felt he was not deserving of our friendship. I mean, he could have easily done something to mess up our friendship because he just didn’t believe it was real or that it could last. I always marveled at how Maurice knew at such a young age that our meeting each other was such an incredible gift for the both of us. And of course I believe it was my mother who brought us together, so I’m sure she would love him and embrace him and appreciate him just like I do.
In the beginning of your story, you described the “invisible thread” that bound you and Maurice together. Would you consider that fate? Do you believe in things like providence, fate, and destiny?
I consider myself an extremely spiritual person, and I have no doubt fate and destiny played a role in our lives. A few years ago, a very wise and dear friend told me, “It’s not your lot in life to have your own children, but in fact to touch many.” I hope I have done that in very simple loving ways with Maurice, his children, my nieces, nephews and hopefully with my great little niece and nephew too. If our story can make a difference for some children and adults, it will confirm that our special bond was meant to happen for a reason. Maurice and I hope our story can change how society thinks about people who are less fortunate and can help them to understand why it’s sometimes nearly impossible to change a devastating cycle. If An Invisible Thread achieves this goal in some small way, then our friendship will have had more of a purpose than just what it gave to the two of us. So, yes, I believe in destiny, and I believe that’s why Maurice and I found each other—to not only help each other, but hopefully to touch other people as well.
Do you have plans to write another book?
Working on An Invisible Thread has been more than I could have ever dreamed of. I am enjoying every moment of the experience, while continually counting my blessings. So I feel wonderfully happy to have this moment and to have had this journey. But I have been thinking about how great it would be to give other people a chance to share their “Invisible Thread” stories, and I think that would make a wonderful book—all of these stories of people who were destined to meet, and the amazing confluence of events that had to happen for them to meet, and how meeting each other changed their lives in profound ways. I think a lot of people out there have just such a person in their lives, and maybe they haven’t really thought about their relationship as An Invisible Thread relationship, but maybe that’s just what it is—this bond that bends but never breaks, connecting them for a reason. So I would love to be able to work on a book about other people’s Invisible Thread stories.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a wonderful read I couldn't put down. very touching. cried at some parts. would recommend
What a great story of hope and trust! This book also shows with guidance, trust and modeling children can overcome the odds of their birth. Both Laura and Maurice are blessed to have found each other.
This book proves how one small act of kindness can be a life changer. Truly heartwarming and inspirational, a book that will affect your outlook on life. I enjoyed reading every page!
As a New Yorker myself, we tend to ignore the homeless with no regard of their situation. This book hit close to home and was very inspirational. The genuine relationship between Maurice and Laurie brought me to tears several times throughout the book. I seriously felt like I was right there the whole time. GREAT BOOK! Buy if you want a great read and a tear jerker
This book grabbed me from the start and kept me wanting to see how things turned out. It was written to keep your interest and makes you not want to put it down. I can honestly say I have walked by these people many times and never gave it a second thought until I was in Washington DC with my family and we were eatting lunch at Union Station and my wife had ate alittle more than half of her sandwich and she had placed her napkin over her food as she was done and a homeless lady came up and asked my wife if she was finished when she said yes she asked if she could have her left over sandwich. My wife said she had ate off it and the lady said that was fine. She took the sandwich and thanked my wife and sat a few tables down from us. This was an eye opening event in our lives and this book is also eye opening. Great and quick read at 200 pages.
An amazing story. One act of kindness that spirals outward saving a life which then gave life to those children who will have children of their own someday. Makes you want to start helping someone in need today. I think I'll start.
This book touches my heart because as a mentor myself for over 20 years i know an adult could have a profound impact on a child if the adult just opens his or her heart and let the kid in. Children who suffer are only seeking adults for guidance. This story is an easy read, you'll laugh and cry. Worth every emotion. I highly recommend it!
This made me laugh, cry, and realize that there are some people that are so selfless, its amazing. A must read!
Laura Schroff's novel about her unlikely lifetime friendship with a young black boy who panhandled her in the 80's is,, above all, honest. When Laura was a successful magazine executive in NYC she impulsively offered to take a starving black boy to McDonald's. Their lifetime friendship is the stuff of this book, interwoven with Laura Schraff's memoir of her challenging childhood. I liked the Laura of the memoir a lot. She is gutsy, real and positive. As for her belief in invisible threads that connect unlikely people...I'm not buying. I often breathed a sigh of relief when risky collisions of their two worlds worked out for the best. The writing style of simple, declarative sentences wore thin by about the middle of the book. This memoir was originally a magazine article and is, in many ways, just a longer one. My advice to most is to borrow a copy or take it out of the library before deciding to spend money on this book.
This is a wonderful, heartfelt message to readers. Open your hearts and take the time to see what is before you. The storyline is based on a well-to-do woman in New York who actually took a moment to talk to a bedraggled child begging for money on the street. This is an inspiring story and is a reminder to all of us to try to help people in need instead of snickering and neglecting. This is one for all to read and benefit from.
“An Invisible Thread” is a beautiful story of friendship that kept me entranced until the last word! The unlikely relationship between Ms. Schroff and Maurice is one that I remember forever.
Really? Laurie allows her second husband,Michael to decide that she will not have children and she allows him to ban Maurice from HER home. But, she summons her courage to defy her husband because she WANTS A DOG! This story was heartbreaking for Maurice. Laura could have done so much more for him. I think she is cowardly. She watched her mom and get brother be beat up numerous times but never called the authorities. She gave less than 24 hours a week to an impoverished child when it fit into HER life and would not defy her selfish second husband, Michael to include Maurice in the holidays. I could not finish this book. It sickened me to read the acolates to Laura
The author may have done one act of kindness so fortunate for this young man - but I can tell you the live person is not a kind person at all. I witnessed her orchestrate to get someone fired so she could take a demotion to save her own hide. Causing someone to be unemployed in a down economy is far from giving. I hate to see her profit when she caused harm to many others.
Very,very good story. I loved every minute of it!
The general story was ok but the actual content was a little bit thin. It felt like certain things get repeated and over dramatized to bring some sort of excitment to the book. I like thecncept and the way the little boys life turned out but there weren't nearly enough anecdotes to justify the length of the book.
I couldn't put this book down. Insipiring. Lovely. Positive. mmfergieqh
This author wanted to feel good about herself, and picked helpimg a destitute child to accomplish it. Problem was she could not susstain it so she abandoned him. That was all he knew his whole life, ao he abandoned her, and, DUH, she could not figure why. Overall book was a big disappointment.
I did enjoy this book quite a bit. I would have found it interesting to hear more from Maurice's perspective, his recollections/point of view to correspond with hers.
Teaches us all that one person can make a difference. Makes you look inside yourself and really think about what you can do to help someone, anyone, in some way.
Heart warming story. However, poorly written. One of the few cases where I believe that a movie would tell the story better than a book.
I really want to get this for my daughter but im not sure about it. Would it be okay for 13 year olds? Im trying to teach her about being nice and kind but i dont if this is the right way.
I enjoyed this book. Well written.
I connected with this book from the start...beautiful story of trust, honesty and pure genuine love and loyalty...I cried and felt so many emotions...I will read over and over....thank u for a beautiful book
By jujuk81 This is a great story! One person can truly make a difference! I can see this book being made into a movie!