Questions For An Invisible Thread

QuestionsForLiving Interview with Laura Schroff October 24, 2012, based on her New York Times Best Seller, An Invisible Thread. In this interview, Laura Schroff discusses her unique relationship with Maurice Mazyck and her book, An Invisible Thread. Laura’s questions focus on actions, but also a sincere compassion and curiosity that leads to a very meaningful relationship. The interview also includes fun and meaningful invisible thread stories from readers who shared their stories with Laura.

Preface: The concept of an "invisible thread" is that there is a natural force that attracts two people who can help or learn from one another. An invisible thread is often characterized by a sincere curiosity and a strong desire to understand, help and participate in another person's life. This interview considers the balance between acting through intentional questions and decisions versus acting through inner-knowing and following one’s heart. 

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QuestionsForLiving: Were there some primary questions that you started asking at an early age that influenced your decisions regarding your work, friendships, and your relationship and loyalty to Maurice? If so, what were some of these questions?

Laura Schroff: Honestly, the questions that I knew as a young child, because of what I went through as far as my family was concerned, were centered on the question “How can I create a different life for myself?”  I wanted a different life than the one I experienced as a child. I am not sure I asked the question consciously, but I think children who are brought up in a house with alcoholism or drugs can go one of two ways: they can either follow in those footsteps or they can take a very different road. As a young a person, I made a very clear decision I didn't want to ever have the kind of life I had as a child.

There were certain positive things I took as a child and were instilled in me such as a strong work ethic. Both my parents were really hard workers. However, I knew I wanted to have a better life and as a grown up, I didn't even want to date someone who was a drinker. Drinking for me was something that was very frightening. Those were the types of decisions I made when I was young.

However, when I met Maurice my desire to help him wasn't really a conscious decision. It was more that I just said, "I want to help this kid." It just happened. It was something that was really natural. I could not believe this eleven-year old child was on the corner begging for food – and he was really hungry.

The second time I saw Maurice, I was surprised to see he was wearing the same outfit. His sneakers were so tight. I could tell his feet were crammed into them and I felt sorry for him. But again, it wasn't like I made a conscious decision. I'm not sure my decision to help him was based on my experience or childhood, but rather I really believe there are no accidents. I have no doubt Maurice came into my life for a very special reason - for me to help him, and just as importantly, for him to help me. Now, years later, I believe our encounter was not an accident; I believe it was an invisible thread that connected us and my mother, in heaven, put Maurice in my path. She knew I needed more in my life and she knew Maurice needed someone in his life.

I remember very distinctly when Maurice asked me for money and said he was hungry, I said "No" and kept walking.  However, it was not until I was in the middle of Broadway that something made me stop and go back, the words that resonated with me were, "I'm hungry."

Until that point in my life, I had never come across an eleven-year-old panhandler. Back in the 80's there were so many people on the streets, but to actually see a child, it really stopped me in my tracks. My decision to turn around and go back to Maurice was very deliberate and intentional. I remember thinking  "This kid is hungry and I don’t feel comfortable giving him money, but I can take him to McDonald’s for lunch.”


QFL:  Given that your business success enabled you to provide support, care, and help for Maurice, are there some specific questions that you asked that enabled your success professionally? Were there specific questions that guided your career choices?

Schroff:  When I was 25 years old, I made a conscious decision I wanted to have a career in sales. However, I also knew that Icelandic Airlines, where I was working, was not going to develop into the position I wanted. There was only one woman who was an outside sales person and I really I knew it was not going to be possible for me. So I looked at my skill set and said, "Ok. Even though I didn't go to college, what are my strong assets?” I realized even though I did not have a formal education, my personality and work ethic were my strengths; and I really did get along with people, so I decided sales was the way to go for me. I guess the questions I asked myself back then were:

"What can I do to have a good career?"

"What is my skill set?"

At that point, I made a conscious decision that sales was the profession I was going to pursue. Again, I was only 25 years old and I had never received any direction from anyone, and my number one goal was to find a field that was sales driven. Then I saw an ad in the New York Times that said, "Sell advertising space for a twice-weekly trade publication." I thought it sounded interesting, and when I looked at sales positions in this field I noticed if a person had three or four years of experience, they could make around $30,000 per year. I thought “Wow! This sounds like a really lucrative business. I can make really good money.” Given that I worked for an airline, I knew of this magazine, and I thought maybe I could get an interview. That's really how I fell into advertising sales.  


QFL: Were there specific questions that you asked as you advanced within your career and that guided you, as you became more experienced professionally? If so, what were some of these questions?

Schroff:  I am not so sure it was about questions as it much as it was my work ethic. I had been at Travel Agent Magazine for two and half years and then went from there to MS. Magazine. When I was working at Ms., there were so many bright and highly educated women, and I was 27 years old, without a college education. I knew in order to succeed; I was going to have to work really hard. I had to show them even though I did not have a college degree, I was willing to do whatever it took to get the job done. 

It was really my work ethic and drive that kicked into high gear because one thing I knew for sure I was going to succeed. However, I also knew to succeed, I had to work much harder than everybody because they didn't have to prove themselves as much as I did, and I felt really insecure.


QFL: Based on your story, when you first met Maurice it sounds as though that you just felt a pull or desire to return to him and help him. After you took him to McDonald’s, were there questions that you were asking yourself at that time that guided your decision to take him out to play video games and eventually to try to see if you could find or see him again? Were there certain questions that started to emerge at that point?

Schroff:  Yes. Even when we were sitting and we were having lunch together that first day I was intrigued by him. I wanted to understand Maurice and his circumstances better. I remember asking: "What does your mother do?" "Does your mother work?" and he said "No" I asked again "What does your mother do?" and he said, "She stays at home and vacuums and cleans and does things like that." I thought it was a strange answer, but I took it on face value. I later found out it was actually what he had seen on television shows like "Leave it to Beaver."

I remember during our first encounter that he really intrigued me.  I thought he seemed like a really sweet kid. I didn't understand how he could be on the street begging for food. I didn't understand why he was hungry.  Maurice told me he lived at the Bryant Hotel. I knew it was a really shady and a drug-infested hotel for government supported housing. I was very aware of the hotel and it was only two blocks from where I lived. The Bryant Hotel had a reputation for not being safe so whenever I walked on Broadway, I always made sure to cross the street. I was really surprised he was living there.

There were also all these questions in my mind that I didn't ask him… I knew he lived with his mother, grandmother, and sisters but he didn't really elaborate at the time about how many people were actually living in this one hotel room. I asked him where he went to school. Maurice went to school all the way downtown, which didn't really make sense to me. I wondered, "Why would Maurice go to school downtown, when he lived midtown”?  I had never met anyone who lived in a shelter hotel, yet alone, a child.

I had all these questions about him. So when we were done with lunch at McDonald's, I really wanted to spend more time with him and that's when I asked him if he wanted to take a walk at the park. While we were walking, I asked him what he liked to do and whether he attended school. He said that sometimes he did go to school, but sometimes he didn't.

Later that day, he asked me if I liked to play video games and I said, "Yes, sometimes." So we went to a neighborhood arcade and played video games. That night, I was thinking about him and I just couldn’t get him out of my mind. It was then that I started thinking that having taken him to lunch and giving him my business card may not have been a really a wise thing to do. When we parted that first day, I gave him my card and said, "If you're ever hungry, give me a call." Obviously, if he was on the street begging for food, he needed every penny he could get. A few days later on Thursday night, I made a very conscious decision to see if I could find him. I thought maybe I would see him again since he lived in my neighborhood.

Unbeknownst to me, that same night he was really hungry because again he had not eaten for a couple days and Maurice was hoping if he stood on the same corner he might see me again. When we were at lunch he wanted to know what I did for work and I had said I worked at USA Today. I explained it was a newspaper and the ads that you see in the newspapers were sold to different companies. He asked me where I worked and I told him the address.

I explained to him I worked really long hours, and he was interested in the whole "work thing". So he decided if he parked himself on the same corner sooner or later, I would be walking home from work. So he decided he would get there at 5:30 p.m. and just stay there until I came home and he saw me again, which was exactly what happened.

On Thursday night I left work a little early with the hopes of seeing him again. After we had dinner that night, I suggested we meet on the same corner the following Monday at 7:00 p.m. and I would take him to the Hard Rock Café for dinner. We met the following Monday at 7p.m. and that started the ritual of our Monday nights.

I do remember as a child I wanted structure in my life, so I decided I wanted to try to give him as much structure in his life as possible. So we started off by getting together every Monday night regardless of what was going on in his life or mine. We had a set time every Monday.


QFL: Are there specific questions that you asked yourself that shaped or defined the quality of your relationship with Maurice over the years?

Schroff:  Absolutely. However, I do not know if it was as much questions as a thought process. When we were playing a board game and he was sniffling, I asked him to please go and blow his nose and he didn't know what I meant. I was shocked he didn't understand what I was saying and realized as a child, no one had ever put a tissue up to his nose and taught him how to blow his nose.

What shaped the relationship was the bond we created the very first time he came to my apartment. I felt it was very important to be specific with him. I told him, "The reason why I invited you to my home was because I consider him a friend and told him friendship was built on trust. So you need to understand if anything is ever missing from my apartment, we will no longer be friends."

I felt it was important to set parameters and on the flip side Maurice did not understand why this adult was being nice to him and he was sure there was a reason and he was going to find out the night I invited him to my home. Maurice really thought I wanted something from him. He actually came prepared with a box cutter in his pocket. He was really shocked that all I wanted was to be his friend. He looked at me and I said, "Do you understand what I'm saying?" After a few minutes he looked at me and said, "Miss Laura you just want to be my friend, that's it?" And I said, "Well yes, of course."  He stood up and put his hand out, and said "Miss Laura, a deal is a deal." That night we shook hands and solidified a bond of trust that has never been betrayed.

As I spent more time with him, the questions around how he was living were answered, including the fact that he was living in a room that was 12 x 12 with only two single beds, no pillows or bedding. How was it possible that children like Maurice are living like this? By now, I also knew there were other children in his family that were also living like that, but I could not take on the entire family. Also Maurice was also pretty protective of me and wanted me for himself. That's when I started sending food and clothes home and helping with his laundry.

So many of our experiences were new for Maurice. He never knew anyone who worked and he didn't understand work ethic. He would ask, “Do you go to work every day?” Maurice just didn’t understand the whole concept of working. Also, he had never sat at a dining room table and had dinner with a family. He did not know how to use a fork and a knife. So I realized by spending time together he was giving me an enormous amount of joy because I was helping him, and showing him a different world and he was so darn adorable. 


QFL: Your questions less focused on how you could impact Maurice's life, but rather trying to understand what his life was like?

Schroff: That's right.

QFL: Were there specific questions that you suggested or that you wanted Maurice to ask himself about the future?


Absolutely. We used to have this conversation all the time.

I used to ask, "Someday, when you grow up, what would you like to be?"

Maurice would say, “I don't know.”

Laura, “What do you mean you don't know?”

Maurice: “I don't know, I really haven't thought about it”

Laura: “Haven't you ever thought about being something like a police officer a fireman or teacher…?”

I later realized the reason why he didn't ask himself these questions, was because he didn't have any role models.  What Maurice didn't say to me was, “I just thought I was going to be a drug dealer or a drug addict…”

His friend, Gas Station Mike, was a guy Maurice met when he was 10. He told Maurice “You're never going to see the age of 18 because of the path you are on.” This path was largely defined because he did not have role models and he never asked those questions like “What will you want to be when I grow up?” because he didn't think any other way was possible.  I could not fathom as a child Maurice didn't have dreams, but he didn't. He didn't have role models or anything in his life that made him think about dreaming.

There is a story in a book that people haven't really picked up, but I still find it absolutely amazing. It was at Christmas. We had put the tree up, then went out to dinner and came back to my apartment, and Maurice was having some cookies and hot chocolate.  He asked if he could just look at the tree? We were playing Christmas music and I remember being so surprised that he knew all the words to all the songs, yet he had never had a Christmas tree of his own.

He said "Ms. Laura, thank you so much for tonight." And he said, "You know, kids like me see everything from the outside looking in because we know what we see is never going to be possible for us." His life gave him no choice, but not to dream. He knew that by dreaming, it was just a dream and it would never come true. From his perspective, kids like him were not capable of achieving those kinds of dreams, so basically he always thought he would be a drug dealer or a drug addict. After all, that's what he knew, and that's what everybody in his life did.

It really wasn't until we went out to Long Island and had dinner at my sister Annette’s house and we were driving back to New York City and I asked him, "What was your most favorite part about the day?" I really expected he was going to say playing on the swings or going bike riding with Derek. What he said took my breath away; "Ms. Laura, I loved that special room with the big table and how everyone was sitting around and talking. That was the favorite part of the day. Then he said to me "someday when I grow up I'm going to have a big table just like that.” I realized this was the first time I was starting to have an impact on him; he was starting to dream.

Today, when you go to Maurice's apartment, and you go into his living room where everyone hangs out, he doesn't have a couch. He has a TV on the wall, a computer in that room, and there's a big huge dining room table. That's where he hangs out with his family. At my sister’s home I realized that the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was starting to have an impact. All of a sudden, he started to see he did want to be 18. He did want to have a family and he wanted a big dining room table.


QFL: Are there questions you would suggest others ask when they are trying to help children who are growing up in hard situations? For people who want to extend a hand having learned what you've learned over the last 25 plus years, what questions would you encourage people ask themselves to prepare for that role will be in that role?

Schroff:    A lot of people would question and ask themselves, "Should I do this or shouldn't I do this?" And the answer I would always say is, I would say follow your heart. I believe people should ask, “What does your heart tell you?”

When I met Maurice, people were concerned I was putting myself in potential danger and I just remember thinking, “This is a really good kid, just stuck in a really hard world, and I need to follow my heart.”

I believe these questions people should ask and answer themselves, “Am I following my gut instincts? Am I following and listening to my heart?”

People might ask themselves,  “Can I make a difference?” My answer is, “Yes you can!” This is one of the things we’re seeing with the book, which is really astounding, and something we didn't really expect. People are reading An Invisible Thread and then helping others. Alex Tresniowski, my co-author, Maurice, and I are seeing the impact An Invisible Thread is having on people who want to make a difference. Through one small gesture or one small act of kindness, you can make an enormous difference. You do not have to save a child for their entire life, but there are things you can do that can make a difference.

Here are just two ripple effect stories that readers have shared with us.

There is a person in Arizona who emailed Laura when he saw Maurice and Laura on the Rachael Ray show. He read her book and he could not get their story out of his mind. He looked at his own life and questioned and wondered what he could be doing to help others. Then one day he was in a supermarket and a young woman with two small children were in the line with a basket full of groceries that were already bagged. When the woman gave the clerk her credit card, it was declined. He told Laura that she had this look of hopelessness on her face. In his email to her he said, “I thought of your book and I thought I don't have to change the world, but I'm in a situation where I can in fact pay for her groceries.” So he did and this is a perfect example of how one small act of kindness can make a difference. 

Another time, Laura received an email from a young woman in Colorado who read her book and loved it. On Laura’s our website it says, "If you have an invisible thread story please share with us." So Bridget sent her story to Laura.  When Bridget was in fourth grade, she had a teacher “Polly” who took her under her wing. Bridget also came from an abusive family. Laura and Bridget had certain things in common including having grown up with family members who were drinkers and who had bouts of anger. The teacher Polly really helped her. However, at the end of her school year, her parents abruptly moved Bridget to another part of Colorado. However, twenty years later Bridget moved back to her hometown and decided after reading Laura’s book, it was an invisible thread that connected her to Polly and she decided to try to find her.  She wanted to say “thank you” to Polly and wanted her to know she always stayed in her heart. Today Bridget and Polly are great friends.

One of the amazing things was in her letter, Bridget said that what our book did for her was defined her relationship with Polly and it was an invisible thread that connected them. An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of regardless of time, place and circumstances. The thread will stretch, but it will never break.

So the name of the book is actually defining relationships that people are having. Sometimes people say I have this relationship, but I never knew why it was that this person was meant to be in my life, or I never understood why this person was in my life. But they are able to find a definition through the concept of an invisible thread. It’s very encouraging and heartwarming for Laura to hear these stories of kindness that may have resulted from sharing their story.

Another thing about the book An Invisible Thread is that it reminds all of us that we have the ability to empower others to dream bigger dreams and to live better lives.

Other questions I would suggest people ask pertain to mentoring….

When I met Maurice I hoped I could have some kind of impact on his life, but what never dawned on me was the impact Maurice was going to have on me. Our relationship created a positive change in both of our lives. But more importantly, our story and relationship had a ripple effect on a wide range of people including Maurice’s entire family. His kids today will never know drugs, hunger or the circumstances that Maurice experienced as a child.

So often when you are a mentor, you want the instant gratification that comes with helping someone, but sometimes, like with the teacher Polly, it was 20 years later, that she realized the huge impact she had on this fourth grader. Her student had never forgotten her and, in fact, cared about her so much that she came back to try to find her to say “Thank you.” The words that Polly said to her as a child, “That you can do this.” And “You can be anything you want to be.” And “You’re really strong” was hugely meaningful to her. Polly didn't realize those words would stay with her for 20+ years to the point where Bridget would come back to say “Thank you!”

The questions a mentor could ask would be:

- Am I having an impact on this person?

- Am I making a difference? Sometimes the answer can come to you at that moment but sometimes it's not until years later that you realize the impact you actually did have.

- What is my heart telling me right now? I would tell someone, "Follow your heart!"

 - How can I listen to my heart?


QFL: Are there questions that you encourage someone who is in Maurice's situation to ask him or herself to find a mentor or defined up when out? What should someone to Maurice's situation asked to find a new way?

Schroff: That's a tough one, only because so many of the kids who are in this living environment don't know what is available to them. But I guess the questions for a kid like Maurice would be:

"What can I do?"

“How can I help myself?"

What are the kinds of things that I can do today that will have an impact in my life later?”

Some of those answers would be not to follow the footsteps of the people around you who sell or do drugs. Another solution would be to talk about how important education is and how education is the way of getting out of your present environment. Another question is, “Should I be going to school?”

Yes! Yes, because if you go to school and if you are educated, you will have the tools to change your life. It's hard because a lot of times these kids don't know this.


QFL: If QuestionsForLiving were to were try to get good questions to the people and children who need it the most, how would that be done? How would I get good questions to a kid who is 11 years old and living in this situation? How could we get questions to that person to use them?

Schroff:  I would probably say through their teachers because they're the ones who can have the biggest impact on these kids if they're not part of a mentoring program. So it’s really the teachers asking these questions of these kids and who are taking an interest when they know they are struggling.

I was just inducted into my high school's (Walt Whitman) Hall of Fame and, of course, I told all my friends and family. It was such a surprise and honor because everyone who knows me knew I really struggled in high school.

School never came easy to me and I know the reason I struggled so was because I was always tired. At night I was afraid to go to sleep because I never knew what would happen in the middle of the night.

In high I did have one teacher, Mr. Phillips who always encouraged me to do the best I could and he had a huge impact on me and I am sure he never realized how his encouraging words meant so much to me. He knew I was trying really hard; yet I just could not pull off good grades and I would freeze when I had to take a test. One of the surprises that’s happening with the book which is really incredible are questions like: “Who's going read my book?" and "Where will this book have some kind of impact?" Well, the book is having a huge impact in schools, which is really amazing.

For the kids who are privileged, they are reading my book and saying "Wow. I am really lucky. I have really good parents. I have a really nice life and I need to be more grateful for what I have."

For kids who are underprivileged, they see they can, in fact, make a change. They can see they don't have to be where they are for the rest of their lives. They can move beyond their own background if you are willing to work hard, have a strong work ethic and most importantly, you have a dream.


QFL: What were some of your primary questions when writing Invisible Thread? You and Maurice have had so many experiences over the years, were there specific questions that you asked that shaped the book?

 Schroff: I think the biggest questions in writing the book was the of title of my book "What's the name?” “What is the best title to capture the essence of this story and our relationship?” And, then we discovered the title  An Invisible Thread.

I really do believe our the stars have been aligned with my book from the very beginning. We couldn't come up with a title. We were about a month out from sending the book proposal to a literary agent and we still did not have a name. One day, I went to the store to buy a birthday card for one of my friends. I was looking at the cards and the next thing I knew I was looking at this card, that said, "There's an old saying about an invisible thread that connects those who are destined to meet." When I opened up the card it said, "I think about that whenever I think about all the twists and turns in our lives that makes it seem that our friendship was meant to be. I can't imagine not having you in my life. Happy Birthday Friend"

I remember standing there and shaking and thinking, “You've got to be kidding me! This is the title,

An Invisible Thread!” There were five cards and I bought them all. I ran upstairs to my apartment and I called Alex and said, “Oh, my God. The craziest thing just happened… I started looking at this card.  I don’t even remember picking it up, but the name of the book is An Invisible Thread!” I liked the name because it not only gives a name to my story with Maurice, but also put a name on a type of relationship we had. So we had the name of our book and it was perfect, An Invisible Thread.


QFL: Were there other questions that you asked when you wrote the book? Did you sit down and write it or did you sit down and organize the story first by outline and then try to fill it in? What process did you use for writing the book?

Schroff: In May of 1997, Good Housekeeping did a small story on us. It was a two-thirds page article.  When the article broke, I received so many calls from friends in the business and they kept suggesting I write a book.

Honestly, up until that point it never even dawned on me. This was just a relationship Maurice and I had. So in 1997, that was the first time I actually thought about writing a book. However, I thought about it for a very long time, and it wasn't until 2007 when I moved to Florida for a very short period that I really began to write my book. At that point, it had been on my mind for quite sometime and I finally had free time. So I thought, I'm going to give my book a shot.”

I remember doing an outline of the stories I wanted to cover in my book. What was really interesting was the outline never included anything about my own childhood. It wasn't until I was doing the chapter on taking Maurice to the baseball game, and how excited he was and how he loved baseball so much that I remembered how the men and the boys who I grew up with loved baseball. All of a sudden, I thought about my brother Frank and his mitt and how much he loved his mitt. The next thing I knew I wrote the mitt story. That's really how I decided to include my childhood; it was never really part of the story initially.

I moved back to New York six months later, and I put my book on a back burner and it was not until October 2009 that I decided I really wanted to make a go of it and that’s when another invisible thread occurred.  I was introduced to Alex Tresniowski, my co-author who had also worked at PEOPLE for seventeen years, yet our paths had never crossed.   We traveled in the same elevator bank, and we eat in the same cafeteria, but we had never met.   A colleague introduced us and at the time, Alex was taking an early retirement package from Time Inc. and in January 2010 he agreed to work on my book with me.

"How is it possible that the two of us worked at the same company for 17 years he didn't even look remotely familiar?"

Here is another invisible thread story... After the book was sold, we needed to find Miss House, Maurice's teacher. She was such a wonderful teacher! So Maurice went to the school and they told him she retired, but what they didn't say was she was still sometimes a substitute teacher. Meanwhile, I spent one Saturday calling every Miss Kim House in the New York area and came up with nothing.

Two weeks later Maurice's daughter, Princess, was in homeroom and the teacher said "Oh my goodness Mazyck! By any chance, are you related to a Maurice Mazyck?" and she said, "Yes! That's my dad!" Miss House said, "Are you kidding! When he was a little boy I had him as a student." They chatted a little and then Miss House said, "When he was a little boy, he was friends with this woman. Do you know what happened to her? "And Princess said, "Oh, you mean my Aunt Laurie. Yes, they are still in touch and they are writing a book." Miss House said, “Would you please do me a favor? Here is my telephone number. Can you please have your dad give me a call?” That's how we found Miss House.


QFL: Independent of An Invisible Thread, what questions do you believe that people should/could ask themselves to make our world a happier and healthier place, if so what are those questions.


"What am I doing today that I feel good about?" There are a lot of people, like me, who did well in business. However, when I look at my life, what I'm most proud of is really the relationship and friendship I have with Maurice, and the fact that I was really able to make a difference in his life.

So I guess the question would be, "What am I doing, and is there anything more that I could be doing, to help make a difference?"

Yes, if you believe that one small act of kindness can make an enormous difference you can affect change.  I also hope my book, An Invisible Thread will remind us all that we have the ability to empower others to dream bigger dreams and to lead better lives.

For more information regarding Laura Schroff and An Invisible Thread, please visit her site:


An Invisible Thread in Times Square!! 


But of course!

Jodi O'Donnell-Ames's picture

We are both members of QFL! What a coincidence.

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