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.