It started back in October when I was working at the Elevation Cycles location in Boulder- a man came in the shop asking to use our phone because his friend outside needed an ambulance. Outside, there was a man laying in the grass by the main entrance of the shopping center. I have some first responder training, so, as the guy inside was finishing his conversation with 911, I grabbed a pair of rubber gloves and went outside to help. The guy in need of help was under the influence of god-only-knows what and could barely hold himself upright. I put a hand on his shoulder and asked if he was OK and he eventually sat up on the ground, and his friend sat down next to him and put his arm around him. The guy who had used the phone explained to me how they were homeless, and all they had was each other, and that they watched out for each other. I brought them a cup of water and sat on the ground with them until the police and ambulance showed up, and the really high/drunk dude told me I was the most beautiful angel that he’d ever seen, and his friend (who was not quite as drunk/high) agreed. I laughed and took it as a drunk/high expression of general appreciation.
The part of this story that really hit me hard was the statement the guy made about how he and his friend watched out for each other, and how no one else cared about them.
Yesterday I was leaving Whole Foods, and a man was standing outside, asking random shoppers for help. As I put my cart back in the cart area, I watched someone blow him off and someone else ignore him completely. He approached me and said, “I need help. I’m having a really hard time, and I just need a couple of bucks.” I paused and told him, “Yeah man, I’ll help you out.” I gave him two dollars, and he seemed a little overwhelmed, then held out an arm like he wanted a hug. I gave him a (somewhat tentative) side hug, and he thanked me profusely and walked off down the sidewalk towards the main road. I have no idea where he went or what he had planned for the $2, but I don’t think it really matters. There’s a chance he went straight in to the liquor store that’s next to Whole Foods. He could have used it to get on the bus. No clue.
Since I moved down in to Denver from Blackhawk, I’ve given a few other handouts- either a few bucks or whatever food I had with me- to people obviously in need.
I’m writing about this because it seems like there are so many people who don’t want to help anyone but themselves. There are people who won’t hand out a couple of bucks because they think the person they’re giving it to will spend it on booze or drugs or whatever. My thought is this- no one stands outside a Whole Foods asking for help if their life is totally effing peachy. What they spend the money on doesn’t matter… what matters is that they asked for help, and someone thought they were worth helping. If you strip down the rough appearance and addictions of anyone, they’re human, flesh-and-bone, just like you.
There was a man passed out on the bike path a couple of weeks ago. He was laying motionless in the middle of the path. It’s a well-traveled area, so I’m assuming people had been just riding around him like an inconveniently placed speed bump. I stopped and asked if he was OK. He gave me a thumbs up. There was a big plastic bottle of vodka next to his bag leaned up in the bushes on the side of the path. A couple of days earlier, a customer had tipped me $10, and I had it in my jersey pocket. I handed it to the dude and told him, “next one’s on me, man.” He was really happy and wished me a merry Christmas. That’s the only Christmas present I gave anyone this year. I’m sure he went and bought booze with it. It doesn’t matter.
Empathy- imagine if you screwed up, made bad life decisions, and were homeless and alcoholic. You probably don’t like yourself, don’t care about your well being, and don’t feel like you’re worthy of anyone else caring about your well-being. In my optimistic brain, if enough people show you that you’re worth caring about, maybe you’ll eventually think of yourself as worthy of getting help. Or, you’ll go buy another cheap bottle of vodka. It doesn’t matter, because, at least for a few seconds, that guy felt like someone gave a damn that he looked dead instead of just dodging him like an inanimate object.
When you’re warm and well-fed, empathy can be an uncomfortable feeling to deal with. It’s way easier to ignore someone and/or assume that they have ill intentions and go on about your comfortable life.
I’m not trying to pat myself on the back. Don’t give me any “atta girl” comments or anything like that. I don’t even want you to acknowledge to me that you read this. I just want to take advantage of the fact that I have an audience to motivate/encourage people to help other people however you can. Just read this and go do good for other humans who need help.