This I Believe

Caitlin - Coopersville, Michigan
Entered on August 31, 2007

I never really thought about or believed in a spirit that bonds all people. I believed in good people, or a goodness within individuals, but not in a goodness between humans as a society, as a whole. But that all changed in a brief moment last winter.

Over the summer and on every Tuesday we had off of school, my friends from the Young Democrats group and I would all carpool into the city on Tuesday mornings to Feed the Hungry in Veteran’s Park. We all felt like the group shouldn’t just focus on campaign issues, but we should have a social conscience as well. It was one of our favorite activities because we could go and meet all kinds of interesting people, we could give back to the community, and it was an amazing bonding experience for us all.

I knew that we were doing a good deed. I knew there were people in the park hadn’t had a hot meal in a week, that they had learned to live with an empty stomach. I would hand out meal tickets, prepare hot dogs, and pour coffee and almost everyone would give me a sweet smile or a pleasant “Thank you.” as they passed. I would return their kindness with a polite grin or a “No problem.” I never really thought about it. Thank you is a term that is used all the time. It still carries meaning, but it’s not heavy with it.

But one chilly Tuesday, when the wind bit my ears, the snow speckled the sky, and the stream of coffee from the leaky tap burned my fingertips, I learned the true meaning of the words “Thank you” and the true meaning of what we were actually doing. People would walk by, grab a cup, and casually say their thank yous as they left to find shelter from the cold. I would smile and say, “No problem.”

And then one slightly older man took a cup of coffee and slowly stirred in four or five sugars. He picked up the cup with his long fingers, he looked at me directly in the eyes, and said, “Thank you.” My immediate response was, “Oh, no prob—“ but he cut me off, “No, really,” he said, “you really have no idea how much this means.” He gave a wide toothy smile and walked away.

At that moment I could feel my flesh tingle and the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I thought of all the thank you’s that I had received and taken for granted. I never really knew the weight of the words until that moment. It actually made me believe in the goodness of the human spirit. The bond of kindness and courtesy that links us all together as a society. I saw that people don’t want to take without giving in return—they don’t even want to take charity without giving in return. A hot cup of relief from the winter chill was my gift to the slightly older man and his gift to me, a simple yet elaborate “thank you”, was so great that it changed the way I will look at the world, at society, and at other people forever.