Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Worst, And Best, Of Humanity

I have been snowed under by Passover, so sorry for not posting. I've had a couple of experiences lately that are completely juxtaposed that I wanted to share. I always believe in delivering bad news first, so we'll start there.

I was working out at the gym when I spotted a 30-something year old man wearing a t-shirt that caught my eye. It said, verbatim: "Yes, I have lots of spare change, you homeless piece of shit. Thanks for asking." The bottom of the shirt depicted a pile of change. I was astounded that someone would consider designing, producing, and selling such a vicious shirt -- let alone wearing it. I don't exaggerate when I say that I would rather be naked than wear something that mean, and I don't have a beach-ready body, to say the least. I was stunned by that shirt, and walked away shaking my head. The gym's manager was exiting his office and said to me, "Is everything ok?" I told him to go read the shirt on the guy working out on the Arc Trainer. Later he said, "Next time I see that guy I'm going to say something to him about it."

I left the gym with that shirt on my mind, feeling bad for whatever exists in humans that would allow someone to feel ok propagating that message. It's easy for me to start feeling crummy about the whole human race when I encounter people like that, so I'm glad I had the following experience a few days later:

If you don't live in a big city you might not know that some homeless people ride the buses all day to give them air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. So, when I got on the D2 bus to head home, I wasn't surprised to see a homeless woman with terrible cataracts that I often see on that route. She must have said something to the bus driver about being hungry, and I started paying attention when the driver offered the woman an ice-cold bottle of water and a quart-size ziplock bag full of trail mix. The following exchange ensued:

Woman: "I don't want to take your lunch."
Driver: "You aren't. I already ate my lunch -- two tuna sandwiches!"
Woman: "Than what is this food? Am I taking your snack?"
Driver: "I always carry a snack and a bottle of water in case I see any of my homeless brothers and sisters and they're hungry or thirsty. I figure that it's my duty to take care of my fellow man."

I sat back watching this, stunned. In fact, tears are overflowing from my eyes right now. It's so rare to see such kindness in motion, especially the premeditated kind. This man goes to work every day with a meal for someone else. Wow.

I debated the rest of the bus ride home about whether to say something to the driver on my way out. I didn't want to embarrass either the homeless woman or him, but I felt so strongly, I couldn't help myself. I struck a balance by leaning over to him as I was getting off at my stop and said quietly, "I saw that interaction when you gave away your food. You are truly awesome, and I so admire you." He said, "Thank you. You're awesome too. Thank you for riding my bus today."

The interaction on the bus challenged me to think critically about what I actually do and what I should do to make the world a better place and take care of my fellow brothers and sisters. I donate money to charities that serve the homeless, but I'm considering buying a box of granola bars from Costco and carrying them in Kacy's dog-walking bag, where I keep spare bags, my iPod, treats, etc. I encounter homeless people several times a week who ask me for money or food, but I don't carry money when I walk the dog, nor do I feel sanguine about giving money to random people on the street.

The bus driver helped many more people that day than the homeless woman he fed. He helped me, and anyone else on board paying attention, by showing me humankind at its best. He gives service in a very tangible way, with a humble bearing, and an open heart. In a way, he helped restore my faith in humanity.

It took me two days to type this post.


Kate said...

That's really remarkable. There are so many great examples of humanity at its finest that can surprise cynics like me in this city. :)

Stef said...

Sarah, that is SO wonderful. It's amazing how truly good people are, and lovely how many people are willing to "heed the call" and let that goodness shine through. Awesome.


Anonymous said...

Three thoughts:

1. Wow! What a mentch!

2. It's nice to see something nice about Metro drivers. While most of them are nice folks, we only seem to hear about things they do that are wrong.

3. I'm sorry ;-) but you can't be snowed under in DC right now. We all were snowed under in February, and it's just too nice outside for that to happen now.

Chag Sameach ... now time to finish preparing for more Yom Tov!

Rachel said...

This is TRULY amazing. Just.Wow.

Laura said...

Aw, I teared up reading the second story... thanks for sharing!

Lexie said...


I didnt even know you had a blog but keep on posting!! Let's talk soon....


Sarah said...

Thank you all for your comments. Michael, believe me, I'm one of the first people to comment on how nasty most Metro bus drivers are, which is one reason I wanted to share this story. When I first told David about it, I said, "I should compliment the driver to Metro management, but they'd fire him for being too nice." ; ) Seriously, I'm glad this touched y'all as it did me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing both stories. While the second story was quite beautiful, the first one shows how far humanity has to go and reminds us that the work is not done yet.

Renee said...

I struggled with this when I first moved into DC and tried a number of different approaches - some funny, some lame - to the best way to respond the the (apparently) homeless needy. Here's my current practice: I carry small boxes of raisins in my bag, and offer it to the homeless who ask. It doesn't solve their problem, of course, but it allows a moment of human connection between us, along with a bite of something sweet and nutritious. And it's easy to carry.