“In this life we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love”
As I spend my days commuting from A to B travelling across the city you can usually find me zoning out into my phone, immersed in a good book, or trying my best not to catch a couple of Z’s. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life - moving swiftly along with the drones of people, closing doors in the faces of others, and being consumed by your small little day to day bubble. People aren’t necessarily friendly right away, and above all else people don’t talk.
When I think about the times in my life when I have been my most lonely, and felt my most isolated it wasn’t because I was completely alone (okay i lived overseas alone for 3 years but I was still surrounded by teammates and other people every single day). I felt alone most because I lacked connection. Connection to others. Connection to myself. And I craved that connection daily - hence the FaceTime calls every night to my family back home.
Quite often before people get to know me they think that I am a b**ch, for lack of a better word. Because I am shy and a fairly serious person they mistake that with a lack of kindness and I’ll miss out on those connections that I seek. And at the end of the day I think that’s all that we as humans desire. To feel connected to one another. To feel bonded by our journeys and our stories. To relate to one another's hardships. To not feel so alone.
It is incredible to me how moments in our life shape us. How quickly a moment can change our perception of others. How a moment can come to define our lives, or how a moment can quickly tear our lives apart. Moments can be big, or moments can be small. Moments can be happy or moments can be devastating. And all it takes is a moment to change a persons life.
This weekend I had one of those moments. It was maybe one of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking experiences I have ever had. And maybe my life won’t change from it, but it was one of those moments that was deeply affecting for me, and one that I hope was life changing for a complete stranger.
As I was hustling through my day waiting to meet my friend for brunch I decided to take a breather on a bench as she was running a little bit behind. I was sitting beside an unassuming man who after some time decided to strike up a conversation. In my usual manner my guard immediately went up, because - well strangers don’t usually talk to me unless I’m being cat-called or somebody usually wants something. My defences seem to be my first reaction to human connection oddly enough.
And as he finished with his barrage of questions about my day I asked him what he was going to do with his day, just to entertain the conversation and make it seem like I was interested in chatting. And in the next moment my defences were smashed to pieces by his simple answer.
“I’m homeless, so I’m going to finish this coffee and then head to the street to ask for money. After that I don’t know”
What do you say to that?
How do you react?
I immediately felt awful for my semi cold conversation, and I decided to rectify my actions and treat the conversation with kindness. It is so easy to forget that everybody is dealing with something. And while we all face our own struggles, there are others who may be facing things far worse.
It’s funny how people can open up, when you ask the right questions. He shared his difficulties in learning as he didn’t have the grades needed to finish trade school, and a mental illness made things more challenging. We talked about sports, about travel, and our passions, before he expressed his jealousy in not knowing what he wants to do with his life when to him it sounded like I had mine all figured out. I asked him about his dreams and we discussed how he could go about making those a reality.
But, after some time I needed to go on and get going with my day as my friend had just arrived. I decided that I wanted to do what I could to help and offered to get him a meal once I was done with my afternoon. The way that his face lit up at this gesture brings a tear to my eye, and will be something that I carry with me for a long time. So I said I would be back by 2:00 pm, unsure if he would show up, questioning whether I should show up, and wondering if I would ever see him again.
Call me silly, but I decided to do what I said I would do as to not let him down. As I arrived to the same spot just after 2:00 I could see the hope start to dwindle from his soul as he was questioning whether I would come back, and how in the moment I arrived his world became a little bit brighter. He told me he had made $9.00 so far with his day, but was thankful to not have to worry about one of his meals.
As I got him settled with his lunch in hand at a table I handed him $20.00, and said that I unfortunately had to leave to get home. And his words broke me once again. “Will you stay and have lunch with me, I don’t have anyone to talk to.” Uncomfortable with the situation I explained that I needed to leave, but that I hoped our paths would cross once again. I promised him that things would get a little better, and I encouraged him to put into action his plans to make a better life for himself and with that I was on my way home.
I didn’t understand the magnitude of this moment and how much it truly affected me until I got home later that night and tried to share with my mom the good deed I had done with my day. As I began talking I completely broke down. Through sobs I shared the story and wondered if I had done the right thing. Hoping that this moment be one of those life changing moments for him in reaching a better life for himself.
Always practice kindness. Even when it seems like the world is against you. Even when it seems like you have nothing to offer. And especially when you don’t know what the other person is going through. Everyone has a story, and it is never what you assume. You'd be surprised how much a conversation, a hug, or a simple smile can change someone's day.
From a young age we are taught to treat others the way that we want to be treated - but somewhere along the way in our young adult life we lose that. We become consumed by our need to do more, acquire more, be the best, have the most, but we do that sometimes at the fault of others and we lose the thing that we crave the most.
How to be a good human 101:
Say please and thank you.
Help each other.
Ask lots of questions, share everything.
Always do the right thing.
Live to connect.
And always choose kindness.