Random acts of kindness, I have talked about this several times in the past and feel it warrants another discussion.
On my way home from work the other day. I took my exit ramp as I always do and like everyday, there is usually panhandler's at the end of the ramp. One thing I learned years ago is you never give money. Offering food will always tell you if the panhandler(s) are legit in their dire straights. The gentlemen that was panhandling this day, I had never seen before. He had a soulful face and I really wish I would have had my camera with me that day, but I didn't. Looking at him I remembered I had leftovers from my lunch date in my passenger seat, so I rolled down my window and asked "Are you hungry"? To which his facial expression and reply told me I had a real down on their luck person here. So, I offered him my Chinese food leftovers and he couldn't get to me fast enough. Once he had them, he left the exit ramp and headed over to the park across the street to eat. So, I did a u-turn and stopped at the 7-Eleven on the opposite corner and got him a bottled water to wash down my lunch with. His eyes told me everything I needed to know and I sat with him while he ate asking questions with the upmost care. I found out he was a homeless Vietnam Veteran which gave us lots to talk about since I am a veteran myself. I would have known if he wasn't a vet because our language and acronyms are specific and it is easy to determine a pretender pretty quick. He told me his name was Frank and we talked for about a half hour and then I asked him if he wanted a ride to the shelter, to which he kindly declined. It was then I found out he had a dog which was with another homeless person down by the river. If you are at all aware, pets are not allowed in shelters anywhere that I know of. He had left his dog reluctantly with this other person because he didn't want his dog to be exposed to the afternoon sun for too long without water. Which I understood and have found that homeless people take better care of their pets than themselves. I asked if he had food for his dog and he said yes. He thanked me for my lunch and it was there we parted ways.
I find it very difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that so many of our countries veteran's are in the same predicament as Frank. It is like society had turned a blind eye to those who fought for our country. I too have become a bit jaded when I see people panhandling, but it is because just like those pretending to be veteran's, there are many panhandler's that pretend to be in need. I have seen it many times, like the guy who parks his expensive Escalade a block up from the on ramp and walks to the exit ramp to panhandle, are you f'ing kidding me! They are the ones who don't want food, just money and it usually means they want it for booze or they don't really need it at all. I see it all the time near where I work, too. It does tend to harden the soul. But, then along comes the real deal and my heart breaks for Frank, veteran's and legitimate people homeless and in need and on the streets.
Last month I bought lunch for a kid who couldn't have been more than 18 years old. He wasn't panhandling at all, but sitting in the park with his cat, who was very well behaved by the way, on a body harness. So, I again walked up, but this time I took a different approach and asked him if his cat needed any food. To which he said "Oh no, I have plenty for Pepper (his cat's name) and proceeded to open his backpack and show me that that was ALL he had in his backpack, cat food. I was taken aback needless to say. I then asked him if he was hungry and he looked at me without speaking, but his eyes said it all. So, I said "would you like me to get you something to eat" and he replied "I will eat whatever you bring me. So, off I went to the supermarket a block away and got him a sub sandwich and a bottle of water. When I brought it to him, I paused choosing my words carefully. I asked why he was on the streets and he didn't say anything for a minute and then just replied, "I got lost in the system", which to me meant foster care. But when I tried to ask him about his family, he was polite, but basically didn't want to share that with a total stranger. So, I wished him well and went on my way. Walking away from him was the hardest thing I think I have ever done. He could have been my own son and it hurt my heart that one so young was in such need.
So, I guess this leads me to where I was trying to go in my thoughts on random acts of kindness. Life is not set, it is hard and can often times be quite cruel. One's circumstances can change in an instant and I truly believe that what we do as people comes back to us ten fold, good and bad. We have to make the choice to try and make a difference somehow. Is there risk involved...absolutely! As a retired military person and a woman, I asses everything before I proceed. I scope out parking lots before I proceed to my car for heaven's sake, so all I can tell you to do here is to trust your gut. If a situation doesn't feel right or feels unsafe, then don't go there.
What I did for Frank and the young man I encountered barely makes a ripple in the big scheme of things, I know. But, I can tell you it made a difference to them and I pray that none of us ever has to find out what it is like to lose everything.