A little kindness goes a long way...
As I walked into Subway and stood in the never ending line up that is the lunch time rush, I was humbled to see a man walk in with another who seemed to be a little hard on his luck. It was easy to see that the first man was treating the other to a lunch. The first man went into the washroom and the other explained to me that he was being treated to lunch and that this made his day even better as the sun and the amount of bottles he had collected put him into a good mood. When the other came back I began talking to him and told him how kind I thought it was of him to do this. He said that it really wasn’t that big of a deal and that he was happy to do what he could to help. I realized that the man was right in buying him a sandwich but wrong in saying that it wasn’t a big deal, because from the other’s eyes it really was. That small act of kindness was an event that made a big impact on his life and on mine.
So often we paint a hero out to be people who led revolutions, saved entire groups of people or did some major act that received worldwide attention, but small acts of kindness like the one I saw in Subway today are still valuable, meaningful acts. It will never make it to the news that this sandwich was purchased, you won’t see it on headlines or hear about it on the radio, but it is still valuable because it had an impact on someone’s life. No act of kindness is too small, no act of kindness means nothing or goes unnoticed. Even though the man who spent 5 odd dollars on a sandwich may not have been the world’s hero, he was still a hero to the other man. To me his actions were incredibly admirable seeing as he wasn’t looking for any recognition, he was just looking for a smile on the other’s face. We can all be a hero, we can all make someone smile, buy them a coffee or make a day.
In my usual fashion, after speaking with this man I soon learned his name was Robert. I told Robert about my project and he began to share with me his story. Robert's story was an interesting and inspiring one. He shared with me stories of hardship and struggle yet extreme optimism and strength. As I was speaking with Robert he shared with me that he grew up on a farm with his sisters, before he was able to graduate high school he had to drop out to help out on the farm when times got hard. With no income and no education Robert was forced into a life on the streets, to a life of collecting cans and searching for a safe place to sleep. Robert shared with me that although life can be hard at times, he still continued to be overwhelmed with people's act of kindness like the one he had experienced that day. From people buying him some food, to giving some cash or handing over their bottles and cans, Robert continued to be humbled by strangers kindness.
Robert's life on the streets he explained to me was one of community. He explained to me that through his journey he has met many friends in a similar situation to him. They all look out for one another and stick together, like a family. Robert's optimism and ability to see the good even in the face of adversity was incredibly inspiring to me and reminded me to always live with gratitude.
While speaking with Robert he said to me with no prompting what so ever that he wanted to get a job. He began explaining to me that he would love to be employed, but he is spending all of his time on survival rather than trying to get a job. Roberts words really hit me. To think that he goes day by day just trying to get by, collecting enough cans to buy food and spending the day trying to find shelter, there really is no time to get a job. I guess in a way I never realised just how difficult it really was to be homeless. So often people on the streets are painted to be lazy, but really it is the exact opposite. Sometimes life has a way of treating us unfairly and I hope we can all pause and think, if I was in that situation what would I do? It is easy to say that I would get a job, clean myself up but really if you look at the day to day tasks of finding food, money, water and a safe place to sleep it's a lot more difficult than that. Then on top of all of it finding access to a computer, employment services, a shower and clean clothes for the chance they might get a job. Some of these people don't even have a birth certificate or any form of ID. I challenge us all to reflect and try to walk a mile in their shoes. Practice a little empathy and realise that we really don't know the half of what these people face every day. I hope we can all learn from Robert's story that a little empathy and a little act of kindness can go a long way.