I watched the man approach the table. He was timidly asking one of the women standing at the table what the pile of odds and ends was on the ground nearby. Hearing him I replied, “ Oh I brought those. They are for anyone to take.” Immediately, I wanted to reach through the chilled space and retract my words. Selfish and loaded with self-accolades and righteousness they were. And worse, I hadn’t even brought all the things in the pile. I made a note to myself not to do that again. Need more practice I thought.
I wandered around the table laden with food, water, and juices. Noticing that the food was mostly store-bought, I made myself a cup of instant coffee with the bottled water that was gently simmering on the Coleman stove. Someone had brought the stove to heat water and homemade potato soup and chili.
Finding a piece of sunlight, I sipped my coffee and watched as the middle-aged man took what he needed. No more and definitely less than others before him had taken. He had a pair of tennis shoes from the pile hooked onto two fingers of one hand.
My eyes averted to the man’s feet and the shoes he wore. They were canvas tennis shoes and in pretty good shape I thought. Perhaps he was taking the white leather tennis shoes for another. Kind gesture I reasoned and continued my conversation with others who were present to support the homeless. For some it was the second of the parks they were visiting that day.
Sipping my coffee and enjoying a hot cup of homemade potato soup, ham and cheese included, I saw the man had come back. Just as quietly as he had arrived before, he had slipped back in to the fold. Observing he had the tennis shoes on, I thought great! Glad they fit him. He began gathering a few more pieces of food, and again I went about my business talking small talk to people whom I had just met.
Moments later I spotted placed next to the pile of dwindling canned foods, blankets, and various hygiene products were two shoes, a pair lined up side by side. They appeared to have been carefully and neatly placed. They were the shoes the man had worn before he had made the exchange.
I was in awe. I stood there staring at the shoes. I looked around for the man, but he had gone. Nowhere in sight.
And there I stood. A woman with the world compared to those living in the park or on the streets thereabouts, and I had boasted to this man about the pile of unneeded things I had gathered from my house. Here was a man, who without saying anything, had taken what he needed and was thoughtful enough to place what he had back for another who might be in need. He did it in silence. He did it with selflessness.
Yesterday was January 1, 2013.
Yesterday I was given my first lesson of the year. I plan to carry yesterday with me for the remainder of the year.
Happy New Year to all! Practice deliberate acts of kindness all year through.
Follow the Ben’s Bells project and copy notes you can distribute when you recognize the small acts of kindnesss you see others perform.