I found myself stopped at an intersection on a wintery day. Strong arctic wind battered my car. I spotted a young woman who stood alongside the street rubbing her bare hands together and dancing in place to keep warm. Beside her rested a sign that read, “I have a baby and no food.” Her face showed she had been crying, likely from the pain of the bitter wind.
Homeless and unemployed people are a common sight in many of our larger cities, and most motorists drive by without offering assistance. They have no doubt been taught that giving money fosters a dependent lifestyle, or the ready cash may be used to purchase alcohol or drugs rather than the food for which it was intended. Like me, they may have been taught that money is best given to a local charity or through one’s faith community, as these institutions often have excellent programs to help those in need.
And though this is true, I sometimes recall a humorous story about two college students who encountered a homeless man on a sidewalk. One of the students took a couple of dollars from his wallet and handed it to the unfortunate stranger. His friend commented, “Why did you do that? He’s just going to spend it on booze or drugs.” The young man answered, “Yeah…like, we’re not?”
On that icy day as I waited for the light to turn, I felt conflicted about that young woman. I figured she was probably staying at one of the women’s shelters in the area and wondered if her baby was there now, as there was no child in sight. Should I give her money? She was obviously in need. And whether or not she actually had a baby at all really didn’t matter. I gave up guessing people’s motives and analyzing their stories long ago. It was cold. She was cold. And she apparently felt she had to be there.
What should I do? How could I help? What was best?
As I wrestled with these questions, a window rolled down from the car in front of me and a hand shot out holding a warm pair of gloves. The driver had taken her own gloves off and gave them to the shivering woman. I saw the young woman mouth the words “Thank you” as a broad smile lit up her face.
It occurred to me that, as I debated, somebody else helped. As I hesitated, someone else acted. As I tried to decide the BEST way to assist, somebody else just did what she could. In other words, as I did nothing, someone else did SOMETHING.
I made myself a pledge that day to always try to do SOMETHING. And I’m not just talking about giving money. I’m not even talking about the homeless, necessarily. Where there’s a need, there’s an opportunity. So I promised myself that, whenever or wherever I spotted a need, I would try to do SOMETHING.
Educator Leo Buscaglia said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Even speaking, listening, and noticing — they may not seem like much, but they are something. And the smallest act of kindness carries great power within.
I don’t want to underestimate what I CAN do. Where there’s a need, there’s an opportunity. My action may not turn a life around, but it can make some kind of difference. And I’ll trust that the something I do, no matter how small, will be better than the nothing I might have done.