At first we kept saying: “We’re going to beat it.”

I cried three times as this story unfolded. It started with a typical Facebook post by Brandon Stanton in Humans of NY. It was on January 26, 2014. There was a photo of an older man on a subway platform. He had a big gray beard and red glasses, and he was wearing a heavy black coat and scarf. He was looking away from the camera.

We're going to beat it

Beneath the photo, as always, there was a caption:

At first we kept saying: “We’re going to beat it. We’re going to beat it.” Then after a while we began to realize that we might not beat it. Then toward the end, it became clear that we definitely weren’t going to beat it. That’s when she started telling me that she wanted me to move on and find happiness with somebody else. But I’m not quite there yet. Not long ago a noise woke me up in the middle of the night, and I rolled over to ask if she needed anything.

Four days later

Four days later, Brandon posted the same photo with an update. “Wanted to share with you guys a letter I got today, because I think it’s a testament to the community of people who follow this blog.”

Hi Brandon,

I’m Ted. We met getting off the Six at Grand Central. When I got home Sunday evening, I had an e-mail from friends in Chicago. One of their daughters reads your blog (is that what it is called?) and recognized me even though she has never seen me with a beard. I am astounded! I’ve read about 1000 of the comments; words cannot express how touched I am by what I have read. It’s actually more than touched; it has been very emotional to read the wonderful things people have said. A couple people appear confused about what happened, for the record she had acute myelogenous leukemia, we were diagnosed July 2008, we lost our battle February 20, 2013, not quite a year ago. Thanks for doing this; it has really touched my life. The most wonderful people in the world read your material and comment on it.

The community responds

Over 120,000 people liked the post on Facebook. Thousands left comments. Here are three of them:

What I love about this man is that he always uses “we,” never “my wife.” They both had cancer; they both lost the battle.

I think the best part of the blog is the comments made by people. Their reaction to the posts is just as important in the experience of this blog as the post itself.

Brandon, do you ever have to pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t sleeping? Look at what has become of what you started. An amazing community, brought together by such simple things…pictures and words. Finding a new post by you is like a little present.

These kinds of stories, these kinds of connections, are what make Brandon a role model for me. Authentic gifts. Talking to the audience. Sharing their stories. Letting us feel like we're part of a community, a place where we celebrate real people who exemplify the everyday human condition - both what we are and what we can be.