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compassion is a contact sport

Posted on: April 20, 2011

A Helping Hand

When I was about 14, I vividly remember my father coming home from work a little later than usual and sitting me down to tell me a story.  He drove the same route home every night from work, and often times he would see a homeless man resting in front of a church.  That night, he saw the same man and something made my father turn the car around.  He drove to the nearest gas station, bought a sandwich, some water, a pack hostess cupcakes and a carton of milk.  He drove back to the church, got out of the car and walked over.  He gently set the food down next to the man and smiled.  I’m not certain what words were exchanged but remember that he had quietly thanked my father as he walked back to his car and drove away.   After he told me this story, he reminded me that no matter what had happened during my day or whatever I might be upset by, that I should be aware of the blessed life that I had with a roof over my head and a loving family to come home to every night.

I remember admiring my Dad’s compassion, but also his bravery.  There was no telling how the situation could have ended.  I was glad he had helped someone in need, but I also felt afraid.  I was worried about what could have happened if a well-meant gesture had gone wrong.

Today was a long day.  It’s been a long month in fact.  Everything scheduled to the minute.  Hectic busy days, lots of work and notably a lot of fun times as well.  But I have found myself to be very consumer minded as of late and just last week was complaining to my husband that I just don’t feel we have “enough”.  I had lost sight of my father’s example and become completely wrapped up in how much I dislike my kitchen countertops.

When I got home late tonight from work, I was too tired to cook, so I ran out to get some sandwiches for Bobby and I.  On the way, I called my friend for a quick chat.  As I parked my car in front of the sandwich shop, I was still bemoaning my crazed day as I saw a middle-aged man walk past my car.  Still chatting, I watched him walk to the garbage can in front of the shop, reach in and pull out a crumpled piece of wax paper and set it on a table.  I stopped, unable to breathe, as I watched him carefully unfold the paper and begin to eat the leftover food that had been thrown away.

I quickly got off the phone and walked across the parking lot.  Not knowing quite what I was doing, but determined to do something.  Before I could get to him, he had thrown the now empty wrapping back into the trash and gone into the nearby coffee shop.  I saw him go into the restroom from the window and my heart sank.  I felt terrible that I hadn’t acted sooner and once in the shop I could barely concentrate as the boy behind the counter asked me what I wanted.  I didn’t really feel so hungry anymore.  I just wanted to make it right.  I wanted to make the world right.  Disoriented and trying to compose myself, I saw the man from the parking lot again, this time walking right in front of the shop.  I stopped mid sentence and ran outside. Then I froze.

I took in a gulp of air and jogged after him. This could be dangerous.  This is stupid.  What are you doing running after some random person in a parking lot?  All of these things racing through my mind, but another voice was louder.  You have to try to help.

He stopped hesitantly and turned around.  I told him that I didn’t mean to embarrass him but that I had seen him before.  I put my hand on his arm and said, “Can I buy you a sandwich?”  He looked surprised and shook his head no.  I asked again, “I’d really like to buy you a meal.  I even have a coupon.  Would that be ok?”

He looked at me and said, “That’s ok ma’am, I have some money.”  He got out an old leather sunglass case and sort of opened and shut it quickly.  There was nothing in it.  He smiled at me reassuringly and said “I’m ok, but thank you.”  And then he walked away.

I can’t really remember what I ate for dinner tonight. And I really wish that he had let me buy him some food.  I also wish I had thought to give him money, but something about that seemed too pushy.  I can only hope that at least he knew, in that moment, that he was not invisible.  That his situation did not define him.  I hope that he felt like someone cared for his well-being.

I called my friend back after I got in the car to leave and she said that she was proud of me for being brave.  I guessed she was right and thought of my father’s story.  I understand now, what motivated him, and what I couldn’t understand as a protective child. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone to try to make someone else comfortable.

I am counting my blessings tonight.  I am mindfully acknowledging everyone who’s ever held out a caring hand and said to me, “let me help you”.  I am appreciative of my parent’s lessons of compassion and love.  I’ll hug my puppies a little tighter, kiss my husband a little longer and plan to wake up tomorrow with a clearer presence of mind.

lotus flower

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

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1 Response to "compassion is a contact sport"

It definitely feels good to help, but lately I’ve been very jaded about life. I need to start being more compassionate.

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