A crazy thing happened today. As you could tell by my title.
I had to go to the doctor. A simple appointment. On the way I drive through a very busy freeway off-ramp.
This off-ramp always has homeless people working it – and usually one on every corner. It must be a good spot for begging.
There was a man there who was obviously homeless – for a long time I would think based on the condition of his skin and hands and clothing.
A woman was walking toward him with a small bag of belongings. She looked equally road worn.
I didn’t really believe his sign – that day labor had been slow this week and they were going to be evicted. Because they didn’t look like they had a home or like anyone would hire them for day labor. In fact, the look in his eyes suggested to me that he probably had some pretty deep problems.
But that’s not the point of the story.
Nor is the fact that the words of my parents and many others ran through my head – that he would use the money for drugs or alcohol. To be honest, that isn’t really my business. If I give someone money, I must realize that the money will be used for whatever the person wants to use it for. I must give it with no strings attached – with no “but you must” holding onto it. I have been working on that in my daily life.
Here is the crazy thing that happened:
I saw his eyes and knew how cold it was out there and how cold it would get tonight. I thought about the holiday season and about how we have more than we need. All year round. How we have more than we use even. We recently went through our basement and donated boxes – boxes – of things we no longer need or use.
We are all waiting at the light – a good 30 cars or more – waiting to go through the light on to the rest of our lives. All looking at this man, or avoiding looking at this man, and his companion.
I reached in my purse and pulled out a bill larger than I have ever given a “beggar” in my life. (not so large my husband would be upset) I rolled down my window and watched as he hurried over to get it. Apparently people who give money to beggars don’t like to be kept waiting.
This is where it gets amazing.
About 30 seconds later he crosses in front of my car to the second row of cars. A man in his 20’s in a brand new fancy car and very nice clothing is holding out a bill. I watch him in the rear view mirror as he continues to walk between and around the cars. Most of the drivers are holding out money. Not just coins or one dollar bills either from what I can see. We even hold up the traffic going through the light a little. I am stopped at the next light and I look back to see the man walk to his companion, hug her, and collect their things. They were going to get out of the cold, I hope.
Kindness is contagious. Would others have given so freely if they hadn’t seen me give? Or the young man next to me give? Would others have continued to avoid eye contact and rushed by thankful to be rid of this man’s stare?
Kindness is contagious. And what’s more it gives more to the person being kind than to anyone else. I felt better all day long. I felt happier and lighter and more “whole” all day long. I am still thinking of that man and his companion – hoping they are both out of the biting wind and snow.
Studies show that donating your time, volunteering, giving to charity, helping others, helps to alleviate depression, pain, high blood pressure and more. I don’t need a study to tell me it makes you happier and healthier. We all need to connect to other humans once in a while on a deeper level.
I have had a lot of people help me in my past – during my “bad” periods. People I knew, people I didn’t know. One stands out – I was very ill – in the middle of my cancer treatments a few months after a surgery. My husband and my son and I had gone to a large mall to celebrate mother’s day. I was weak and feeling ill after walking around just a little bit. We decided to get lunch and sit down, but I knew I couldn’t wrestle with my toddler right then. My husband took him to find a seat and I went to get food for us. The place I chose had just lost power to their card reader and couldn’t take my card. They hadn’t had a sign up. After I stood in line and was feeling like I might pass out from the heat of the heat lamps. I was short the cash by about $2.50. I just looked at the cashier stricken. I couldn’t see my husband to wave him down and I knew I couldn’t “go run get the rest of the money”. I almost started to cry. Not because I didn’t have the money, I could have gotten it and I could have gone elsewhere for food. I almost started crying because I felt (once again) the full weight of my illness, of being a mother when you are ill, of being helpless and reliant on others. I felt hopeless. Not just for that moment – but I felt like I would always be hopeless. A woman behind me saw my distress. Perhaps she thought I simply didn’t have the money and needed to feed my child or was embarrassed Perhaps she just didn’t want to wait anymore for her own lunch. She handed forward $3 and the cashier happily took it. I thanked her as much as I could while stumbling away to find my husband. I have always remembered that moment – that moment when a stranger gave me a tiny bit of my hope back.
Remember, when you get a chance, you can always be a little kinder. You can always give a little more. If you don’t have money to give, give time. That means more than money any day.
It’s easy to say “I’m going to do more good, I am going to do more random acts of kindness, I am going to pay it forward.” But when do we really slow down to do so?
Every action we make is like a pebble in a pond. It ripples outward affecting all of the other people in our path. And other people’s actions make ripples too. Our one ripple can affect hundreds of people just by being bounced forward in the form of another person’s ripple. Ripples echoing through the whole of humanity. We can affect more lives in one day than we have ever dreamed.
Let’s let our ripples be good ripples – be ripples that put love into the world instead of hatred or pain. Let’s teach our children to be aware of their ripples and the effect they have on others.
In 2013 I am going to find a way for my son and I to volunteer together. I think it will be a great form of therapy for him (since we are working on our people skills and our self esteem). I encourage everyone to do more in your communities. Make a small difference and know that no difference is truly small.
“We can do no great things. Only small things with great love.” Mother Theresa