Sometimes the unexpected can really make you stop and pay attention.
It’s cold in England right now. As in, it’s been snowing and below freezing. Right this moment it’s snowing and the temperature reads as -3C. We’ve been wrapping up, layering, hiding from the cold.
One night last week we were on our way to the cinema and a young homeless guy sitting in the alley asked for change. We stopped and had a chat with him, and it seemed clear no one had done so in a while. He looked both surprised and excited just to talk. When he heard my accent he told us about his travels through the States; he’d been all over, traveling from one coast to another. He rolled his eyes when he said Alabama and we all laughed.
He also told us he was getting enough money together to get into a hostel for the night, as the shelters were full. Someone had stolen his sleeping bag, so sleeping outside definitely wasn’t an option. He wished us well and we went on our separate ways.
There I was, warm, fed, and spending money on a movie, when this guy was just hoping he wouldn’t have to sleep on the street, in the snow.
I know we all have our own paths in life. I know how close to the edge many of us are. More than once I’ve thought of the idiom that goes something like, “there but for the grace of god go I”. I’m not religious, but I do feel like I’ve been blessed to be where I am today; sometimes that path that leads to the story in the alley on a winters night is all too close to pulling us in as main characters. We have a sleeping bag in the car now, should we run into the situation again and can help. Still, I berate myself for not doing more for him that night. I continue to feel guilty.
I can’t stop thinking of that young guy. I hope he found a warm bed. I hope he finds his way back to the life that took him on travels. To be honest, I feel lost for words when I think of him. It makes me want to be a better person, it makes me want to scream at the unfairness of life. It makes me angry, ashamed, frustrated. It humbles me and the sense of gratitude inside threatens to tear through my skin.
So, as we head into the final run-up to the holidays, I’m going to focus on what I have not what I don’t), how insanely lucky I am in every way, and how important it is to remember that we are all humans on a journey. Kindness costs nothing, but can mean so much.
And we can only hope we’re never sitting in an alley praying someone stops to notice us.