Monday, September 29, 2008

Did It Make a Difference?

Today began like most other days. It saw me starting out, as usual, with a fresh coffee at Dunkin Donuts - one extra cream, no sugar. I traded the usual good-morning barbs with my boss and co-worker: "It's amazing you and I aren't sick of each other, Bob." "Speak for yourself, Bill," Bob shot back.

"Oh just great! You're still here, Cindy?" Her warm reply: "You just worry about yourself, Bill. And if you don't stop delivering flowers to the wrong address, Bob is going to let go of your ass!"

All was right with the world. I was resoundingly insulted and abused getting my day off to its familiar start. My first few deliveries came and went without a hitch, and before I knew it my 11:00 a.m. caffeine craving was surfacing right on schedule. But this day was about to take a turn for the unusual. As I neared the entrance to, where else - Dunkin Donuts, a man approached me - disheveled, unshaven, and obviously down on his luck.

"Buddy, can you please buy me a sandwich? Please? I'm havin' a tough time here." He was actually escorting me into the coffee shop when I stopped and said to him, "Look, they may not take too kindly to your accosting their customers in here, so just wait outside. I'll be right back." He gave me a funny look for a moment - as if he didn't know what the word "accosted" meant. But the look on his face revealed an emerging hope that the rest of my words must have given him, and he dutifully retreated to the street corner to wait and see if his desperate plea would bare any fruit.

In the few moments I had waiting to be attended to, I weighed my options. My decision was an easy one. Disregarding the risk of promoting panhandling, I thought the right thing to do was to buy this man a sandwich. Hunger is such an immediate need.

I saw my friend's plight as a direct consequence of the financial meltdown on Wall Street. It was having an effect on everyone, from the CEOs of Lehman Brothers and AIG having to so sadly forgo a few million dollars in bonuses, to hedge fund managers becoming apoplectic at the thought of not being able to bring a 30% return on some clients' portfolios; all the way down to Mr. & Mrs. John Q. Public having to weigh not paying this month's mortgage because their heating bills for the winter are coming due; and finally down to my street-corner hobo friend needing something to eat - right away. Maybe this was what they meant by trickle-down economics.

It's possible my hungry associate gave up hope as I had to go looking for him when I came out of the coffee shop. He was meandering in the opposite direction so I picked up my pace and caught up to him to give him his small but important gift. His face lit up at the sight of my approaching carrying a take-out bag from the shop.

"You didn't! Oh thank you, buddy. Thank you so much."

Being the nut case that I am, I couldn't stop myself from offering a few words of advice: "Look, the Social Services office is just down the street. Go there and tell them you need some assistance. That's what they are there for. You're just going to get yourself in trouble if you stay out here panhandling like this."

You're not going to get me in trouble are you, sir?"

"No. no. Of course not. But, you know, some people might not be so kind," I said to him giving myself a virtual pat on the back.

I was left to ponder the value of my deed of generosity. Did it make a difference? I thought it did. It wasn't exactly your average $700 billion bailout, but for a precious moment, we eased a little suffering. And we satisfied not only a craving for food, but almost as importantly, a craving for intimacy. My friend gave me a firm hug before crossing the street to settle at a bench and make a feast of his sandwich.

Isn't it always the way? You set out to do something kind for someone and you end up being the recipient of an even greater act of kindness in return - from the very person you helped! For a fleeting moment, I saw myself as a panhandler, too, groping for a smattering of intimacy from my fellow man - and being willing to pay for it in the currency of a ham, egg, and cheese croissant.

My friend and I were there for one another in this encounter of reciprocity, and each of us came away with that which we hungered for: he, something to fill his stomach, and I, something to fill my spirit.

Such wonderful symbiosis!


  1. It's Karma Bill, I swear it is. IF I had not blogged about this very thing, your day would be as uneventful as thee other(sorry, no disrespect to mundane days).

    My family is one mortgage payment away form having this place taken from us. If not for my in-laws grand financial assistance, we would have been out on our heels a long time back.

    My children are older, so if I needed(which I do) to go back to work, they could be left alone and the house would not burn down.

    But I am healing from a massive surgery, so that is out for me, but if I could work, there are no blessed jobs out there, at least for me there are not. I am a highschool graduate only, not that I am complaining, it is what it is. But for us Average Joes, the pickings are slim.

    I am not opposed to menial labor. I was a cashier for years, and before that a hairdresser, not to say I broke a sweat at either job, but I wasn't fanning myself at a desk either.

    I too, could and can easily be Mr. Panhandler, and with a family of four to boot. To say we live on a shoestring budget is a gross understatement, but we want for little, in the basic necessities sort of way.

    I would much rather scrape by financially then to be loaded and hate my life. Do I love scrimping? No, but I still have a roof over my head, food on our table. That is more than many can say or will be saying in the foreseeable future.

    This economy is bad and is bout to get a whole lot worse.

  2. Yes, it DID make a difference. Any time we can show compassion to another human being it makes a world of difference. It's the little things done with great love that make the big differences!

    Not only does his belly feel full for the moment, you probaly filled his heart as well, which is even more important. Every one deserves to feel that they are cared and valued for and we can do that by lending a helping hand and even more importantly simply sharing a conversation and a smile!