Today is a day to recognize Humanitarian workers around the world, so what could be more of an honor than to help their altruistic compassion become infectious by paying it forward…….
There are many ways to pay it forward, not everyone who has experiences a string of bad luck are looking for a handout, feeling the world owes them something. Some people simply want someone, anyone, to listen to their saga, free of judgment, and lend an empathetic ear, maybe share a cup of coffee. I came across such an encounter upon a trip to LA a few years ago.
LA is not a place to be without a car but that’s how we found ourselves, in a hotel on Sepulveda Blvd doing a PR event at the Emmy’s. The hotel was very nice, like most in LA and it had all the amenities you would hope for. But we are never happy just soaking up the luxuries a hotel has to offer, we prefer to experience LA from the ground up which we quickly learned meant sprinting across intersections when the walk sign was lit because it began blinking don’t walk about three seconds after it came on. Crossing the roads were what I imagine it would be like crossing the Indy 500 with six lanes of traffic and drivers poised at their accelerators. What the Hell, you only live once or perhaps only die once crossing LA traffic, but we did want to have some breakfast somewhere away from the hotel where the normal, or actually abnormal Los Angelians had breakfast. We took our chances.
As we began our journey our first encounter was of a man in a bowler style hat, a tattered suit coat, and tattered pants sleeping on the grass just off the sidewalk. We bent down and asked him if he was okay and he just smiled and said, “Oh yea, everything is fine.” He then rolled over and went back to sleep. Being New Yorkers we were quite accustomed to this type of encounter but none the less thought it best to check on him. He seemed okay, perhaps a bit sleepy but he wasn’t hurting anyone and was cautious to be off the sidewalk. IN New York City walking is just what you do, not traveling hidden in cars and we walked just about anywhere and everywhere we wanted so we trudged on for an LA experience. We found a quaint little café, had breakfast, and people watched for about an hour.
Wanting to completely absorb the culture we just walked around observing, no where to go and nothing special to do. The sun was beginning to wake up in all it’s majesty I assume after consuming a Grande cup of solar coffee and was now beating down hard making it very hot. We stopped off and got some water then continued our walking tour of who knows where Los Angeles. Maureen wanted another tea so we stopped of at a sort of LA Starbucks. While she got a tea I got another water and went outside to soak up the local atmosphere.
The very first person I saw was the now wide away sleeping man we had encountered earlier, whose name I found out was Benjamin. I ventured over and asked how he was doing. I passed him my water not like some high and mighty savior but just as I would to a friend I came across. He accepted and thanked me and to my surprise he offered far more conversation than I had expected, telling me of his trials and tribulations back home in Indiana some thirty five years ago, and how he had come to LA hoping to make it in films. He began as a film runner, running films from one studio to another in the hopes of being discovered but he never was. Then a downsizing left him jobless. He was living in an SRO, or Single Room Occupancy hotel which was hard enough, but six months after losing his job and trying desperately to get work doing anything he was evicted. He spent one night in a shelter and woke up with nothing but the clothes he slept in because in the night someone or ones poached all his meager positions save for his bowler which he wears proudly to this day.
He finished the water then continued his story. Not being able to put on a clean shirt and pants made his interviewing harder and less likely until it got to the point that the smell of his dirty clothes prevented him from even getting to the interview stage. He eventually gave up and was now homeless and penniless in Los Angeles, he panhandled a bit, sang for coins, was willing to any job, but without the luxury of a bed, alarm clock, and shower it was difficult. To me those things were just a normal part of life, one of the many things I take for granted that are luxuries to Benjamin. Even without what most of us consider the basics of everyday life his attitude was amazing. He didn’t whine although he did at times seem unhappily nostalgic, and he wasn’t looking for sympathy, just a friend to talk to for a little while. I became that friend. Ten or twenty minutes of my time, a few seconds mili-seconds in the scheme of life meant a lot to Benjamin. He was happy just to share a bottle of water and some company.
Benjamin never asked me for any money. Maureen came over with a muffin she bought for me and without missing a beat offered it to Benjamin instead. His eyes said everything that needed to be said. The fact that two strangers took the time to listen to his story and offered him something without his asking lit a fire of gratitude in his eyes. Before he left us he gave us the rundown of the area, which area’s were safe, which were shady, and which section was known for shoot outs like the one last night. He gave us a five minute tour of this section of LA and then thanked us to go about his daily business, with a big smile on his face. I distracted him while Maureen slipped a ten dollar bill in his dirty suit coat pocket, and maybe he’ll buy something to eat or maybe he’ll buy some alcohol, I really don’t think it matters because with all the life bullshit he has encountered he deserves a little of both. I won’t judge and I hope you won’t either.
The real point is this, we can walk past those in need, I have, we can close our eyes and pretend they don’t exist, I have, we can pass judgment and decide they were probably always worthless and lazy, or we can bring them a muffin, or a hamburger, maybe a drink, or maybe even sacrifice a few moments from our luxurious busy lives to lend an ear and hear their story. Remember, many of those homeless are Vets, so don’t go waving your flag and carrying on about how big a patriot you are because you post I support our troops memes on social media, do something to help. Actions speak louder than words. And thank you to all the selfless humanitarians around the world. PEACE