I often roll my eyes when I see someone post about their good deed or act of charity. It illuminates in my minds eye a persons need to broadcast their perceived kind behavior .In reality it is a narcissistic attention grab. It is especially pervasive in the Hollywood celebrity culture. Of course, sheepish masses willingly flock to laud them with praise and electronic adulation.
Naturally, when I feel the desire to do something kind for another human being, I remind myself that there is no need to share it with those who are kind enough to follow my online persona. On this day though, I would like to share with you an occasion in which changed me in a subtle but profound way.
This was Thanksgiving, circa 2015. I had a pretty provocative and gratifying day lined up for a 31 year old single dude living in North Chicago. I had just finished a fairly rigorous workout session so that I could warm up for the day. The plan was as follows; head over to Jewel Osco ( my nearest grocery store ) for some thanksgiving groceries. It should be noted that because this was a special day I would spare no expense.. Vodka, bread, New York Strip Steaks, wine, shrimp and more were tossed into my cart with no regard for expense. I was feeling the joy. The joy was going to get better too, as soon as Hannah, my Chinese college professor girlfriend with an ungodly sexy body and smile showed up at my house with home made dumplings. The whipping snow and rain mix that thrust itself upon chicago-land could not dampen my upbeat and slightly arrogant disposition.
As cavalier as i was towards my grocery purchases I was a hawk for the complimentary coffee that resided in the bakery section. As i ambled over with my cart to collect my freebie cup of coffee, I realized there was a potential issue. A young black man about my age was coaxing the last drops out of the pot. I soon could see that we were both assed out on free coffee. He looked up as I was hovering beside him and our eyes met locked in common ground. His eyes communicated a resigned realization that the coffee was gone and any small glimpse of satisfaction said coffee would bring, also had vacated itself from our grasp. I was dismayed and we shared a split second of solidarity. Our dismay however, could not have been more different in terms of impact. My coffee seeking peer was dressed in a long tattered trench coat, an old pair of grey khakis and layers of soiled sweaters. His shoes were wrapped in duct tape and cloth, a makeshift barricade to the biting and lethal cold that Chicago indiscriminately doled out to its inhabitants. I watched as he carefully placed his paper cup back into his backpack and zipped it up, presumably for later use. I followed him with my eyes as he made his way towards the automatic sliding doors and back into the bitter cold streets.
I had seen this guy before. I was a regular on this block as it was in the center of my neighborhood. He never struck me as a guy with his hand out and come to think about it, I had never heard or seen him open his mouth. He was a guy who walked with his head down and dragged his possessions in tow. he was homeless and in dire straights. Beyond that I knew nothing about him. On the affluent Southport Avenue ( the setting of this story) vagrants round these parts were not always as unassuming. Many were out with their signs and cups, chirping at passers on by for a donation. But this was not the case with this individual who had me looking at my own cart and realizing how thankful I was. I would checkout for about 150 bucks. I had decadence in my future. A relaxing day of boozy eating, indulgence and love making awaited me. I mused in my mind about what his Thanksgiving Holiday had in store for him. I concluded that his day had little to look forward to. For him, survival would be a challenge, let alone having thanksgiving meal. As I checked out with my goods I peered out into the wintery setting through the picture windows that lined the front of the grocery store. I could see my peer dragging a garbage bag and backpack towards the intersection of Addison and southport. I felt pain for this man.
“Find everything alright”? Asked the cashier who was certainly counting down until closing time, so she could be in the presence of her loved ones on this special day.
“ yeah do you guys give cash back”? I asked.
“Up to 60 dollars” she recited without looking up from the register.
“Ok i need 60 please”
As I grabbed my plastic bags in a vice grip so as not to have to push a cart in the snow I jogged up the sidewalk towards my friend, grocery bags jostling in my grasp. My 60 dollars was secured in my palm, 3 crisp 20 dollar bills folded in half on top of each other. The mid day snow and wind whipped in my face. I came upon my friend.
“ excuse me “
He turned with a slightly blank yet acknowledging look.
“ I think you dropped this” I held the cash to him. He looked in my eyes the confusion in his gaze soon turned to recognition.
“Thank you” he murmured”
I knew the 60$ was not going to turn his life around but I knew it would vastly improve his situation on this day.
I turned around and walked towards my car. Glancing back, I see my friend paused studying his gift. My eyes started to water. The wind began to calm.