Yesterday I made a routine stop at the bank to make a deposit. As I was walking out I looked to my left and saw a man walking toward me and calling out to me, trying to get my attention.
My first inclination when approached by a stranger, a stranger that appears homeless, is to look down, look away, walk faster, and/or totally ignore them.
And I did this, at first. I grabbed my keys, picked up my pace a little bit, ignored him calling out “Young man!” to me – and thought nothing of it. But as he got closer, I looked up and decided to approach this situation differently than instinct would tell me.
I stopped and asked the man how he was doing. His response took me aback:
“I’m dirty. I’m black. I’m tired. And you’re the first person who’s acknowledged me all day”, he said.
It was a kind of brutal honesty that I just, wasn’t expecting. He apologized, many times, before I could get a word in, for “bothering me” – I told him it was no problem and asked him what I could do for him.
He told me that he needed $14.00 to get his birth certificate printed and said he was trying to get a job. He pulled out a business card and his ID to prove that he wasn’t a “criminal” and asked if I had even a couple dollars to spare.
I never carry cash, but almost as if it were a sign, I happened to have $15.00 in my wallet. Without much hesitation I gave him the money, after which he shook my hand, patted me on the back, thanked me repeatedly, and finally, gave me a hug.
While he gave me a hug, he thanked me again, but this time, he thanked me for hugging him. He thanked me for not looking at him like everyone else had been looking at him.
This was the best money I’ve spent in a long time. This felt good. Not a sympathetic-helping-someone-less-fortunate kind of good. But the kind of good you feel when you open your eyes and see something different about the world around you – and maybe more importantly – see something different about yourself.
This encounter, this fleeting moment that took up no more than 60 seconds of my day, reminded me of something my friend Amber said last week:
“Connection is why we’re here. As much as possible today, look strangers in the eye and smile. The woman you pass on your run, the man in the kitchen who prepared your meal, the 9 month old in the stroller. It’ll make a difference in your day and theirs.”
The best thing you can do with your time here on earth is to contribute, in even the smallest way, to something bigger than yourself.
The message here isn’t to hand out money to anyone who asks (hell, I’d be broke if I did). The message is to change your perspective. Shift your attitude. Open your eyes. Open your mind. Open your heart.
You’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover about what’s around you, and what’s within, when you start to take a look.