So here we are in the midst of critical struggles: the war in Afghanistan, an almost unprecedented economic recession, and healthcare reform gasping . . . and I get a reprieve.

I just returned from my annual trip to the National Caring Awards, where I am reminded that there is another real world where people transcend self-interest and serve others. Every year, five young people (under 18), five adults and one international honoree are cited for their caring contributions to humanity.

Among them was Larry Selman, a mentally challenged, middle-aged man known as “the collector of Bedford Street.” I knew nothing about Larry before we met at a pre-award ceremony luncheon. During the informal greetings, I introduced myself, and he responded by asking me for a donation to fight breast cancer. I was a little taken aback and told him I didn’t have my wallet with me and would catch him later.

Larry was raised in Brooklyn and lived with his parents until he was 26, when they both died. Isolated, fearful, shaking uncontrollably, he was hospitalized in a mental institution. After two months, an aging uncle got him released and ultimately Larry moved to Greenwich Village where he barely got by on his disability checks. But Larry Selman became the glue for the community. He’d sit outside with his dog, greeting all passers-by, laughing, teasing, and asking for donations to give to charity. With the money he raised, he supported community organizations, AIDS programs, hospitals, and muscular dystrophy. Over the past 20 years, he has collected more than $400,000.

A few years back, Larry had a stroke and needed a wheelchair, so his neighbors of 30 years began to collect for him. Larry Selman became a mirror for their own ascendant spirit — they saw in him what they could choose to be. A local filmmaker made an Academy Award-nominated documentary film about him called The Collector of Bedford Street, and the community established a trust fund that helps sustain him.

In the midst of all the crap, you meet a Larry Selman and it rekindles your humanity. There are many good people who give something, but there are few people who have nothing and give everything… that’s a whole different kind of giving.

Whatever my struggles, uncertainties, and occasional despair, here I see a mentally challenged, middle-aged, post-stroke, diabetic man in a wheelchair and feel hopeful. Reach out and fill the cups of others, and you’ll build a caring community.

P.S. I sent Larry a check. Visit him online at www.thecollectorofbedfordstreet.com