“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
There is a homeless man who sleeps on a bench outside the building where I work. I believe he has some sort of mental illness, but no real knowledge of him, really. When I have seen him, he has been talking to himself and while not overly aggressive or threatening, I would go out of my way to avoid him when arriving at work in the early morning hours. This morning was the same as any other except for the nagging feeling I had that I was supposed to do something. I walked the long way into the building, feeling like someone was prodding me to do something for the man, face whatever fear I had and just show him a simple gesture of kindness. I walked into the office, arguing (silently) with myself about what I needed to do and in the end, I made a sandwich, put some chips and almonds in a baggie and went to seek him out, scared or not. I caught up with him as he was walking towards the park, his bag in hand and his head down, talking quietly to himself. I called out to him and as he walked towards me, I could see his eyes at last and they were not angry, crazed and violent eyes; they were kind, somewhat confused and cautious eyes. He was probably as afraid of me as I had been of him. I offered him the snack, telling him “in case you’re hungry…” to which he replied, “yes, that’s a good idea” and we both went our separate ways.
My fear, I realized, wasn’t that he would hurt me or be violent. It was because I saw my could have been, my worst case scenario; living out in the cold, homeless with untreated mental illness and all the bells and whistles that go along with that ride. I couldn’t bear to think of that being my fate, so I distanced myself from him, telling myself it was for my own safety, but it wasn’t. It was for my comfort; it was easier to ignore someone’s suffering or need than it was to face my fears and give what I had to give, which was considerably more than he had. Would the roles be reversed, wouldn’t I wish for that kindness, that simple act of recognizing another human soul in need? Yes, I would. Anyone would.
I had been feeling sorry for myself for some time now, crying over my “first world problems” and raging about “problems” that other people wouldn’t even count as problems. Perhaps this man was yet another way of the Universe attempting to teach me a lesson; in this case, the lesson of kindness. It’s a huge lesson as it covers everything from saying thank you to giving what you have. It’s a lesson that we always need to learn and relearn because as humans, we are selfish by nature. We are in a society that rewards the individual, tells you that you just need to look out for Number One and let the government or the charitable organizations or someone else deal with them. Not My Problem, Not In My Backyard are phrases we are all familiar with, but what does that accomplish? I also understand that I cannot save the world, heal the sick and make the blind see. But I can be the pebble dropped into the lake, sending ripples out that will travel to the ocean.