Defining Moments

Joan - Phoenix, Arizona
Entered on July 29, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

One day I was in a local restaurant for lunch, grading papers, working intently when an older man came in, ragged and hot. He appeared homeless but not dirty, but I really did not pay much attention. I think he asked for food and water, but I am not sure. I did notice that as he spoke to the server, she began to get angrier finally pointing to the door, telling to leave, threatening to call the police. Soft-spoken and polite, he seemed to pose no threat. He made no scene. Looking sad, he left the restaurant.

Something prompted me to buy him lunch, so I followed him out. However, when I reached the street, he had vanished. Was it a divine visitation? I believe it was. I think maybe the server lost a defining moment. She had the opportunity to look beyond his ragged clothes and penniless predicament and give him something to eat even when it was hard for her to do. I was saddened by that woman’s lost moment.

I know not everyone can get a free ride every time. But, sometimes when I stand still and let my heart speak, I know when giving is right. I know. Defining moments come along all the time and I believe I cannot let a defining moment slip through my fingers like water.

I have experienced ‘defining moments’ often in my life – when I must do the right thing even when it is hard to do. I took care of my dad when he was dying although he had horribly abused me as a child, forcing the family to live in terror. I often had to hide bruises and shielded my mother from his blows. The traumas have defined me in so many ways. He remained abusive up to his last lucid moment. I could have refused to help him. No one would have blamed me. Nevertheless, I still cared for him as he got sicker and sicker. I think it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was my gift to him.

When I give a friend a gift, I know it is hers to use as she wants. So If I give someone money or food, I need to let it be my gift – no strings. It is less about what the person does with the gift and more about how I give it and that I give at all. If I place my expectations on it, I may not give and lose so many opportunities, missing those defining moments that help me grow as a human. So now I when I give, I then let it go. Let it be. Then and only then can I understand the full meaning of a defining moment.