All good deeds are rewarded. In spite of my training and experience as a lawyer, I still believe this to be true and am not too jaded to live by it.
Just the other day, my partner, Laura and I had had a petty fight which I started. I accused her of sabotaging my weight loss self-esteem by not properly acknowledging that my pants were bigger around my waistline. She said the pants had stretched because I had not washed them since I last wore them. I maintained that I lost weight. I actually pouted and made a federal case out of the issue.
We pulled up to Starbucks where we planned to order obscenely overpriced cocoas with caramel, sea salt, and whatever else they sprinkle on there so they can charge $5 for each one. On the way in the door, we were approached by a haunted-looking man who asked for change to buy coffee. We dismissed him and proceeded to go inside to blow our money on the drinks.
The man followed us inside, removed his coat which he draped over a chair, and then stood next to us in line. He then asked if we would buy him coffee, never mind if we had any change.
We both were embarrassed for some reason and looked around. Were we waiting for someone’s approval? God, are we this incapable of dealing with those who are less fortunate than us?
We agreed to buy him coffee and then he added that he would like breakfast—a sausage & egg biscuit sandwich. Well, now the man was getting pushy but what the heck—we decided to get that for him, too. As the cashier rang up the order, he chimed in from behind me that he wanted a container of cream cheese with the sandwich. In fact he wanted two containers of cream cheese with his sandwich.
At this point, I recognized the absurdity of the situation and chuckled. I suddenly recognized this moment as one of those great moments where you can choose to be a winner or a loser. I asked him if he would like anything else? Fruit? Dessert?
I would venture to bet that everybody in that Starbucks was thinking how lucky they were to not be that haunted-looking man. I know I was.
I also wonder, disturbingly, how many of the people in that Starbucks were relieved that it was not they who were the ones to be buying his breakfast. I am sure their thoughts of relief do not stem from concern over money. After all, his coffee and breakfast total was less than our drink total.
No, it is really quite another thing. It is that thing called creepy or different. Let’s face it: most homeless people in the United States are mentally ill which often times makes them creepy and/or different. As a society of highly civilized and sanitized citizens, such people make us uncomfortable. We don’t want to interact with them, we avoid them. We will throw money at the organizations that promise to contain them but we don’t want to see them up close.
In fact, in the last two decades, our country’s cities have dealt with this discomfort issue by passing various loitering and panhandling/solicitation laws that criminalize poverty. If we get the homeless and poor out of our sight, the problem will go away, right?
My lesson on that day was simply a reinforcement of my belief system that someone above is watching everything we do. I found the timing of the interlude with the odd man to have the makings of a higher power trying to get my attention. Whether the reward of my deeds is in my heart or in someone else’s, I have succeeded in doing my part to make this world a slightly better place simply by being brave enough to not turn my back on someone asking for a hand. Generosity is not just about opening the pocket book. It’s about opening your heart.