This is a very recent, and important, revelation in my life. I want to qualify that now, because it means so much to me. I hope that everyone who reads this post will share it, and try to do some of the things that I have been inspired to do. Always remember, the world is a beautiful place but only if we make it such.
On August 31st, around 5 pm, I was driving to the south part of town to catch dinner and see a movie with a friend. I had purchased a couple candy bars to bring in with us, because theater candy is exorbitantly priced and we make about $20k less per year than the average starting salary for a recent college grad with a bachelor’s. I was really excited to eat delicious Thai food, and even more excited to learn about Sharks, in 3D, at an IMAX.
As I pulled off the highway and up to the stoplight, I noticed a young man. I’m terrible with ages, so he could’ve been anywhere between 16 and 30, but to me he looked about 20. The first thing that caught my eye was his sign – all it said was, “I Need a Miracle.” And then I looked closer. This young man had blondish, brownish hair, and was dirty from head to toe. His clothes, his skin, just a bit dirty like he hadn’t washed in a week. And then I looked at his face and saw it was really red. Was it from the sun? No. He was crying. Bawling. Like the world was ending. And my heart hurt for him.
So I rolled down my window and called him over. “Hey man!” I called, and rifled through my purse for the candy bars. “I don’t have anything else, but you can have these,” I told him when he came over, handing him the candy bars through the window.
“Oh, that’s okay, I’m a total fat kid at heart; I love it,” he chuckled in that choking sort of way that people do when their heart is broken. “I’ll take any candy.”
“I’m sorry, that’s all I have,” I mumbled, but he just leaned in and hugged me through my car window. He was sobbing a bit again.
“Can you do something else for me?” he asked.
“Sure, what do you need?” I responded, a little bewildered and a little panicked.
“Pray for me. My name is Mike, and I don’t have anyone in the whole world. Pray for me. My only friend died today, his name was Matthew, and he passed away. I don’t know what to do. But pray for me. Pray for God to send me a friend, because I really need one. God hears our prayers, and He answers them. He sends us miracles.” Mike cried through his story.
“I will pray for you Mike, I’ll pray hard,” I said, nearly weeping myself.
“Thank you. It means so much that you are just talking to me like this, being nice. I hate it out here – people yell at me, cuss at me, throw things at me; I didn’t do anything to them! Thank you for praying, and for talking to me.” I heard his voice strain with desperation.
And then, the longest light of my life turned green. Drive away, or stay? I checked in the rearview mirror, and noticed the long line of people behind me. Road rage, honking, traffic jams, and conditioned reflex put my foot on the gas.
“I’ll pray for you, Mike, just hang in there, okay?” I called through my window as I started to roll away.
Mike nodded, weeping again, waved me off, and turned back to traffic with his sign. And I headed to my destination, to meet my friend for dinner, immediately regretting not going back and picking Mike up, or at least I could have invited him to dinner. Or I could’ve bought him a gift card to Village Inn. Or I could’ve run to Ross and bought him new clothes. Or I could’ve offered to be his friend, and stayed and chatted with him. All the things I could’ve done, and shoud’ve done, and would’ve done except that I was held back by social norms (don’t talk to strangers, especially homeless ones), fear (he might ask for so much more than I can give), and downright awkwardness (I’m weird about talking to people sometimes). I knew what the right thing to do really was, but I took care of me and told my friend about it at dinner.
When I posted about the experience on Facebook, a couple people shared it, and a couple friends wanted to find Mike and be his friends. One of them was moving in a few days, and offered up some clothes and other things that he didn’t need anymore. Between the three of us, we decided to put together a care package for Mike. I did my part that night (it was a really, really, maybe even too-big care package), and kept it in my car. Then after work the next day, I picked up the rest from my friend.
I was really feeling good about it. A chance to right a wrong, and a chance to be the vehicle for a miracle. I went back to where I met Mike. He wasn’t there. I drove all around the area, for over an hour. No Mike. My heart sank, and I prayed some more for him, that he got his miracle already. I still think about Mike, I still pray for him, I hope he’s out there safe and loved. Eventually, though, I gave up on finding this kid and went home. I kept the stuff in the car, just in case.
I still haven’t found Mike again, but finding Mike gave me courage to do the right thing, next time. And every time. The right thing is complicated. I don’t have a lot to give, and I have serious qualms about giving people money. Not so much because I am judging them if they have a serious addiction, but because if they do and they overdose, then I contributed to their death, albeit indirectly. I would rather give someone tools for survival, like a couple stupid, delicious candy bars.
And not everyone can give the same, inanimate, tangible things. So, what is the right thing? For me, and I will post specifics on this tomorrow, the right things to give are inexpensive backpack care packages. But for everyone, universally, what’s the right thing? I believe that the answer is simply kindness.
The truth is, nobody’s perfect. People are nervous, uncomfortable, busy, distracted, scared, uncertain, awkward, shy, distant, you name it. But no matter how busy or poor you are, there’s always a chance to be kind. If you’re sitting at a stoplight and someone with a sign waves at you, wave back and smile. If they look happy, smile and give them a thumbs up. If they look sad, give them a smile. A smile is literally the easiest, cheapest thing you can give.
If you have time, roll down your window and say hi. Tell them you wish them luck. Tell them you’re sending them good vibrations. Tell them God loves them, that you love them, that they aren’t alone, that things are going to be okay. Ask them what their favorite color is, their name, what music they like. If you have time, if you have the courage (which I often don’t, when it comes to initiating a very short conversation), stop to the side and just have a conversation. Listen to their story.
If you have something simple to give, offer it. The money you would’ve spent on yourself for a fancy coffee beverage -instead of a triple shot soy espresso with two pumps of caramel, resolve to get a regular cup of coffee and give the rest of your change. Or offer to go buy them whatever they want from Starbucks. Give them a piece of your breakfast. Give them a magazine you’re done with, so they have something to read or look at or sit on. Offer to call a shelter for them if they need a place to stay that night, or to find a food bank for them.
You don’t have to give anything, and you don’t have to give kindness, but kindness literally costs you nothing. Yeah, they might reject it because they’re bitter, jaded, or hoping for cash for addiction. So what? How many times a day do people face minor rejections? You’ll get over it pretty quickly if your head’s in the right place. Don’t give up on being kind because there are some jerkwads out there.
To the right person, to all the Mikes out there, that smile, that encouragement, those candy bars, a hug, it will mean the world. There are people who have to run away from home because home is so volatile or unable to accept them – children who ran away from parents who can’t love them enough to provide a safe home. Or maybe they were kicked out. Kids who make bad choices but are good people. People who lost their jobs, their homes, their families despite their best efforts. Many homeless people are families that fell on hard times.
These people are cold at night, hot during the day, exposed to all the elements because homeless shelters fill up so, so quickly. They are hungry; imagine skipping breakfast, lunch, and dinner for weeks on end and eating crappy snacks instead. Forget a good, warm meal. Do you want to sleep in a bed? Everyone does. These people are exposed not only to the elements, but to the unseemly sides of human nature. They are at far higher risk for violence, illness, addiction, assault, rape. Often, they are so completely alone and isolated from other people. They are destitute, desperate, and disenfranchised, living on the fringes of society.
With Mike, I thought about his story. How his best, only friend had just died. And I remembered one of the worst, hardest times in my life: in March of this year, my precious, 5 year old cat got chronically ill very quickly, unexpectedly. I had to put her down the same night she started showing symptoms, and it was so unexpected, I was so unprepared, so not ready to say goodbye. It sounds kind of silly, but I love (still do) that cat more than just about anything. I thought about what Mike had said, and brought up all the feelings I had when my cat died, and tried to imagine if it were my only friend, a human, my best friend, who died. It was soul-crushing.
You have choices. You can choose to ignore their existence, or maybe feel pity in your heart, but then you justify it to yourself. I do this all the time. It isn’t unkind, but it definitely isn’t kindness either. Don’t feel satisfied with yourself to simply pity someone to yourself. You can choose to ridicule, tease, insult, injure, or curse them -if you’re this cruel, if you think this is funny, then just hand in your humanity card and have a seat in the corner. You can choose to acknowledge them, to treat them as equal, with respect and kindness, to offer encouragement and love, even if you have nothing else to give. This is kindness, and it is the right thing to do.
I’m not saying any of this, trying to act high and mighty. I have so much growing to do. I lack so much courage, and can be so judgmental. That part about pitying someone to yourself not being good enough? That’s directed specifically to me, because I can pity someone so much to the point of tears, but I will probably be too shy to talk to them. These are things that I’m learning, ways that I’m growing and changing, and I’m hoping that someone else will be as inspired by Mike as I am, and that they’ll share what they learned. Hopefully we’ll make the world a little bit better, one person at a time.
I have an addition to this story that I wasn’t expecting. Last week, in the same area of town, I was doing some shopping for work. It was evening, it was rainy, I was tired as all get-out. I pulled into the shopping complex parking lot, and headed to Ross. As I passed Best Buy, I saw a young man sitting near the doors, head down, face in his palms. His sign was longer; it said “Buy me dinner?” and I couldn’t read the rest because I didn’t want to run over pedestrians. Nobody paid him any mind. He wasn’t Mike.
But I remembered Mike, and parked between the two stores. I dug around the care package, and pulled out some extremely choice items, and put them in a plastic bag. I bought a $10 gift card from the restaurant that was right there. And I went up to the guy, just as he was starting to walk away. He seemed off in his own world, and probably assumed that I was walking towards the store and not him.
“Hey dude,” I said, “I have some stuff for you if you want it.”
“Oh wow, thanks. That’s so nice. All my stuff got stolen today, so this is all I have in the world.” He gestured at himself. He had nothing but a sign and the clothes on his back.
“Do you want a backpack, too? I have an extra one, if you want it I can go grab it,” I offered, mentally kicking myself for not just grabbing it in the first place.
“Yeah, sure,” he said, probably feeling a little uncomfortable but also needing it.
I handed him the gift card, plastic bag of stuff (a jacket, peanut butter, water bottle, hand sanitizer, washcloth, other stuff I forgot now), and jogged back to my car. I grabbed the backpack and stuffed it full of some more stuff that I thought would be helpful. 2 minutes later, I went back to the guy and he had already eaten a fruit cup (oh yeah I gave him one of those!) and was scarfing down some trailmix.
He was so grateful for the backpack, and the goodies, I heard him cheer to himself as he went through it. He didn’t tell me his name, but his story was similar to Mike’s – homeless, with nothing but what he wore, no family, no friends, and someone stole the only things he’d had. I wished the guy well, and he headed off to wherever more cheerfully than when I first saw him. And it really wasn’t much, but it made me feel good inside to know that someone’s day just got a tiny bit better.
here’s a random pic of the weather