It’s not every day that a homeless man offers you a beer.
Then again, it’s not every day that you give him thirty minutes of your time.
Don’t be fooled by his worn out tennis shoe
Or his black and dirty slacks held up by
A sweatshirt tied where a belt should pass through
So preventing pants from falling to his thigh
Don’t be deceived by his baggy sweatshirt
Or ragged overcoat of dusty brown
Spotted here and there with abundant dirt
Mismatching colors that may make you frown
Do not gaze upon the man with blindness
Look instead through generosity’s eyes
Look instead through the sight of sweet kindness
Do not give in to poverty’s disguise
Instead of seeing great depravity
Choose to see his boundless humanity
Returning home after another Taekwondo training session, I make a detour to the grocery store.
Outside the store, a man sits on an overturned crate, asking for money to buy food. My reaction is often to say no. But if I’m not careful, no can become my default way of looking at the world. I can close myself and focus on scarcity. So this time I choose generosity.
“Can I get you some fruit?” I ask him.
“How about a tuna-fish sandwich,” he says.
“How about some fruit,” I reply. A sandwich costs a little more than I want to spend.
“Not today. Can I get you some fruit?”
“OK, an orange then.”
“No problem. I’ll get you an orange.” I smile.
I go into the store and do my shopping, taking time to wander a bit. When I finally make it back outside, the man is gone. Oh well, I guess I have an extra orange now. No harm done.
I start walking toward the train station.
A few minutes later, I run into the man at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. I ask him if he still wants the orange.
“Oh yeah,” he says with a grin.
I put the orange in one of his crates.
“Do you want help carrying your boxes? Where are you headed?” It looked like he was struggling to carry his two crates and case of beer.
I pick up one of the boxes, and we continue toward the train station. He’s headed in the same direction that I am.
We exchange names and join in conversation. I ask where he lives. We joke about how cold it is – no need to put his beer in a refrigerator. He asks me if I drink.
The walk goes slowly, and I resign myself to missing the next train. He’s an elderly fellow, and has no need to hurry. I appreciate the reminder to slow down.
After I pay his train fare, we climb the stairs to the platform. The train pulls into the station just as we reach the top. There was no need to worry. Together, we ride toward Chicago.
I sit opposite to him on the train as he goes through his boxes, consolidating the day’s haul. “A lucky day,” he mutters to himself. “Luck is hard to come by these days.”
I think of how fortunate I am. I have food, warm clothes, and a home to go back to. I have people that I love, and people that love me. I am alive. It’s a lucky day indeed.
Glancing at the case of beer, the man grins. “I didn’t pay for it.” He looks at me. “Do you drink?”
“OK, good.” He says while pulling out a beer.
“Not right now, but thanks for offering.”
“Oh, no problem.”
Even though I decline his offer, I’m appreciative of his generosity. I’m thankful for his act of kindness.
Generosity is at the heart of human connection. It opens you up, and you see others as they truly are. You give them the gift of significance. You acknowledge that they exist – that their lives are valuable.
But what if the sound of carrying a stranger’s boxes terrifies you? What if you want to be more generous? Start small.
Generosity is like a muscle. You have to build it up.
Begin with the people you love. Give to the people you already want to give to. Look for ways that you can offer your time and skill to help them.
Build on previous actions. A few years ago, I started greeting the homeless men and women that I passed on the street. From there, I learned their names. Now, I’m comfortable enough to start a conversation. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.
With each step, you make someone matter. With each act, you open up your heart a bit more. Even if you only give them a moment – half an hour on a cold, autumn evening – you will bless them.
Reaching my stop, I get up.
“Have a blessed night,” I say.
We shake hands.
“Get some sleep.”
“Will do.” With a grin, he lays his head down in a mock snooze.
The train pulls away, and he’s gone. I hope I’ll someday get the opportunity to build on that connection and learn more about his story. Maybe I’ll sit down and have a drink with him.
PHOTO: Don’t judge a man by his shoes.