It's Wednesday night, and my most recent column has been live on the site for only a matter of hours. Yet I found myself drawn back to my computer in order to document an extraordinary event which I have just witnessed by sheer happenstance. You may, perhaps, wonder what sight is impressionable enough to justify this awe on my part.
The cause that allowed me to observe this chance encounter was the need for food. I'm sure you're familiar with it; it's been the undoing of many a college student. The cupboard, as Mother Hubbard had astutely noticed, was growing bare, and so I dragged myself from the heated comfort of my lodging to brave the chilly night. Donning my warmest coat, and throwing my scarf around my neck in an appropriately arranged rakish manner, I slid my CD player in my pocket (for I never move very far without my musical accompaniment) and headed out the door.
I passed the two blocks to the grocery store without event, the songs of Irving Berlin drowning out my surrounding environs. As always, I passed by the man huddled in front of the store; tonight, he had a blanket pulled tightly around him to ward off the night's encroaching cold. He may have implored me for some change as I passed by, but I did not take the time to spare him so much as a look as I passed by; my headphones served as an adequate excuse for blocking out his pleadings.
Into the warmth and brightness of the grocery store I strode, casually snagging a blue carrier from the racks and swinging it about me in a carefree manner. I dutifully checked my list and made my way through the stores, stopping only to transfer some item from the shelf to my basket. Having procured the majority of the items on my list, I decided in a rather impromptu fashion to add some bananas. I spent a good two minutes examining the bananas, trying to find the precise ones that I wanted: not too brown, not too green, not too many spots, not too soft. In the end, I settled on a mediocre bunch of four which I hoped would serve.
Meandering over to the bakery, I spent a little time perusing the cakes and pies, and trying to decide if I could indulge without entirely destroying my health. Having decided that perhaps it was wiser to refrain, I was turning and picking up my basket when I noticed a fairly attractive young woman, about a head shorter than myself, with auburn hair and striking features. I passed by without a word, and continued my shopping.
I moved over to the most difficult part of shopping: dinners. I am not a particularly well-skilled chef (I would trade favors to my apartment-mates in return for a cooked dinner). My own specialties are rather limited: pasta, soup, and toast. As a result, I've become a big fan of the prepared meals which require, at the most, some mixing and heating. I decided upon some chicken pieces, and a few of the Chinese food meals that they have (Sweet and Sour Chicken & Sweet and Sour Pork not that they could match the grandeur of our Chinese restaurant). Having acquired sustenance to hopefully last me through, at least, another week, I went on my merry way to the checkout counter. Fortunately for me, being a fairly quiet night at the store, I was heading right to the nearest open counter when the customer at the cashier in front of the one to which I was heading made an exclamation and headed back into the store, having apparently forgotten something off her list. I noted, with interest, the same young lady I had seen before.
I set down my basket and the guy behind the counter gave the usual polite greetings, and as he proceeded to ring up my groceries the register beeped happily. The young woman had by this time found her missing groceries (four extremely large bottles of water), and was being rung up at about the same pace as myself. The idea of engaging her in conversation had by this point become a distinct possibility and I waited as my cashier took my twenty pound note and gave me the appropriate change (having dropped and retrieve a stray two pence piece). I hefted my three plastic bags, and turned to leave the store, the girl only a few steps ahead of me.
As we stepped out again into the winter's night, she stopped and looked both ways, as if unsure which way she was headed. Thinking, perhaps, that she might head in my direction, I slowed my pace, so as not to pass her. And indeed she did turn my way, walking past me. I quickly caught up and drew even with her, thinking once again to engage her in conversation. Suddenly, she slowed and stopped, and unable to predict the quick action, I continued (bound by Newton's Laws of motion) on my course. Half-turning to see what had caused her to stop, I was surprised to see her in conversation with the unfortunate blanket-wrapped man on the sidewalk.
"Excuse me..." I heard her say loudly and clearly, "do you not have anyplace to go?"
Dumbfounded, I had stopped further down the sidewalk. I stared in disbelief; it seemed to me as if she had broken the unwritten rules of society. Continuing to watch, my jaw dropped further as she laid down her groceries, and digging through one of them (for what I first thought must be her spare change), she proceeded to remove a bunch of bananas, and hand them over to the man. I had gone out of earshot, but the grateful mendicant appeared to be bestowing profuse thanks on his spontaneous benefactor. She nodded and smiled, and turned off in the opposite direction to me.
I turned and walked on towards my home, contemplating what I'd just seen. And I began to wonder when I had become such a thick-skinned person. Too often, we ignore what goes on around us, either out of our desire to simply not see our fellow people, or sometimes, in the fear that their conditions can be passed to ours merely by eye contact. Sometimes we take the time to drop a coin or two into whatever container they proffer before us, but even then it is out of distaste and pity that we act, and not compassion or sympathy. Christianity's highest commandment, according to the gospel, is to "love thy neighbor." While I personally may have some issues with Christianity, I can't help but think that this is one thing in which they are most assuredly right. It is the duty and responsibility of those who are more fortunate to look out for those who are less fortunate. We have tricked ourselves into thinking that it is entirely the problem of those particular figures who ask us for our money or our food, but the truth is that the burden rests just as heavily on us the more so when we ignore them.
I wholeheartedly admit that I do not have any particular plan or direction to suggest by which we could endeavor to help, but there are such things already in place in a number of cities and countries throughout the world. But for those who choose not to involve themselves with those causes, just as much can be done by a kind look and some spare change or food to the next of these unfortunates that you come into contact with. But I do not wish to do this out of a sense of guilt; rather, do it out of the kindness and compassion within your own heart.
As I reached the corner, I turned back to catch, if possible, some glimpse of the person who had, unknowingly, had almost as big an effect on my life as she had had on the life of the man wrapped in the blanket. I thought perhaps I caught a sight of her figure as she headed down the busy street, and into the darkness and then, as she faded from my sight, for a split second I swore I could see a faint glow that seemed to hang in the air about her. I rubbed my eyes, for the cold had caused my vision to blur, and she was gone into the night, and all I could do was marvel, and take it upon myself to follow her example.
Dan Moren would like the world to be a better place.