Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Plain Bagel Please

Helping the Homeless

Little Acts of Kindness

Living in West Philly I have grown accustomed to seeing homeless people wandering the streets. They rummage threw garbage cans, pick up cigarettes butts that litter the street, ask for money, bus tokens, and cigarettes, and are generally rather harmless. Their presence seems to be regarded as part of the local scenery. I can't walk down the street without being asked for a cigarette or money and at some point you just have to tune them out or say no. If I gave a cigarette to everyone who asked me for one I'd be going through 3 packs or more a day. Likewise I refuse to give the homeless money because I don't know what they will be spending it on and quite frankly I just can't afford to be giving money away to everyone who asks for it. But today as I was walking to my local Saxby's I saw a homeless man digging through a garbage can and pulling out bottles of juice, tea, water, whatever he could find and consolidating them into one bottle. I was smoking a cigarette and he didn't ask me for one. In fact he didn't speak to me at all. I stood for a few moments simply observing him and I was heart broken. I approached him from a distance and said "Sir, would you like me to buy you a fresh bottle of water or juice or something from Saxby's?" At first he didn't respond. It was as if he didn't hear me so I asked again. He look up and seemed almost just as wary to talk to me as I was to approach him. He spoke in a quiet, raspy voice refusing the offering and continued digging. Something in me felt compelled to help this man in some small way so I asked again, "Are you sure I can't get you anything?" He looked up with a sense of surprise and asked very quietly for a bagel. I asked him what kind he would prefer, if he wanted any butter or jam, and if he it wanted toasted. He said no to all the above. All he wanted was a plain bagel. I told him I would be happy to get it for him and to stay where he was because I would be out in less than 5 minutes. I went into Saxby's, ordered the bagel, and returned to the man who was still hunting through the garbage cans. He thanked me repeatedly just as quietly and humbly as he had spoken to me initially. I am not saintly or even exceptional, I did not do much, I performed a little act of kindness that benefited both of us. This bagel may be the only food this homeless man has had in a while. And I felt good about myself for going out of my way to help someone who probably would have been ignored by any other person passing by. The homeless in this area truly blend in with every other permanent fixture- the buildings, the cars, the trees- and it's almost as if people don't realize that they are not structures but in fact human beings. When something or someone is always there it is too easy to forget that the someone is a human with needs, thoughts, and wants. We walk by them and treat them like they are another building, or doorway, or parking meter. But they are not. They are humans and if we reach out and perform a little act of kindness we have not only met one of their physical needs but also acknowledged the fact that they are humans, they exist. I have two quotes that I would like to share with you in this entry. The first I have chosen because it highlights the statement I made- The homeless are humans too.

"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness."  

- Seneca

The Ivy League Schools' Banners-
As I mentioned previously too many students walk across this campus with their designer bags, receiving their Ivy League education, and ignore the impoverished and homeless people that surround us. A point I would like to stress is that we are all humans no matter our financial status, intellect, living situation, or community ties. Despite our differences the fact that we are humans automatically brings us together via similarities. We all have emotional and physical needs to be met. We all have wants and needs, although they vary, and we all can benefit from the kindness of others. If we can acknowledge that someone unlike us is in fact another human being than we are one step closer to realizing that they too can benefit from a kind act or helping hand. 
The second quote I have picked seems to fit perfectly with my personal account-

"You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."  

- John Wooden

I wasn't looking to achieve a "perfect day" when I willingly bought this man a bagel (especially because I don't believe a perfect anything is truly possible.) However I agree with Wooden in that we can't be proud of ourselves and our lives without performing selfless acts. When I offered this man (I wish I had gotten his name so that I could stop referring to him as "this man") I knew I would never receive anything in return. I probably will never even see him again and if I do I doubt he'd recognize me or I him. But I know he felt acknowledged because of our interaction. I know that for that one moment he felt cared for. For a few hours his stomach will be filled. And he owes me nothing in return. However, he unknowingly gave me something that didn't cost him a thing. He gave me the ability to feel content with who I am. He allowed me to feel as if I could help someone else when I so often feel as if I can't help myself. I guess for this entry I have come down to two main points. 1) Recognize that every person is a human and deserves to be treated like one. 2) Never ignore the opportunity to perform an act of kindness no matter how small. We truly don't know the impact we can have on another individual when we offer the simple gift of kindness and in this case a $1.00 bagel.

Be kind, no exceptions,

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