I am about to do something that is not nice. It’s not mean, but it’s not nice either. What is this thing I am about to do that isn’t nice? I’m about to tell you something nice I did. Let me explain.
As many of you know, many of my friends are Jewish. One of my first Jewish friends, Michael Rosenthal, taught me a very prolific thing in Jewish culture, the mitzvah. A mitzvah is good deed, basically. Once, while we were at a summer camp, I noticed that a building was paid for by an anonymous donor. I pointed out how foolish this was to Mike and he told me that one of the biggest mitzvahs is giving your money without the recognition most attache to it. That lesson has stayed with me all my life.
I guess it all goes back to the thinking that, if you do something nice so people can see and say you did something nice, then you didn’t do something nice at all, and I agree.
So that is why I am about to do something that isn’t nice. That’s why I am about tell you about something I did that was nice.
After nearly two months, my blinds came in. The guy who installed them is named Jim. Jim is an amazing person with a huge heart. He told the story about how he lost his only daughter to liver cancer. He has only one grandchild, Wyatt, that she left behind. Touched by this story and just at how nice Jim was, I decided to buy us both lunch. He happily agreed.
As I went to the Thai place to pick up my food, I noticed that my debit card was missing. I panicked briefly then remembered where I thought I had left it. I went back inside my building, explained to Jim what happened, and asked him if I could borrow twenty bucks. Lunch was still on me, but let me borrow the twenty spot and I would get my debit card and his twenty back. He agreed.
After lunch I went to the store where I left my card. I had to send a fax to work and left it inside the automated fax machine. As I walked out of the business center, it was fortunately right next to my bank so I would avoid those troublesome ATM fees from other competing banks.
As I walked down the street, back to my place, I was going over the thought of giving money and not telling people. This lunch that I was buying Jim would be between God, him, and me. If I tell anyone else, it wouldn’t be a nice act, it would just me doing something to get attention and praise, the complete opposite of something nice.
As I walked back, a timid man began walking next to me. He asked if I had any money. I didn’t want to lie so I just told him that I was sorry.
The homeless man smiled and said thank you and continued to walk next to me. He commented on how hot the weather was becoming. I could just tell he was a pleasant guy looking for a quick chat so I started asking him about his day and how he was doing. He told me the shelters are full and there isn’t any space for him. He also told me that it was a good thing since he didn’t want to be around that. He told me how he had had food poisoning and was finally feeling better. I think that’s when it hit me. Even a starving man could get food poisoning. With that, I told him the truth. I told him I did have twenty dollars and for him to have it. He left me with God’s blessing and I went over to another ATM. I still had to get Jim his twenty dollars.
After I was hit with the three dollar surcharge on my next twenty, I was nearly home. All these thoughts of doing nice things for others were swimming in my mind, first Jim and then the homeless guy. I began to tell myself how great I was and how much better I was than some of my other friends. Some of them don’t give money to homeless people, something I think is horrible.
Just as I was telling myself how wonderful I was, I saw her eyes. It was another homeless person, this time a lady. As we got closer and closer her eyes didn’t let go.
“Excuse me sir. Do you any change to spare?”
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t have any money on me.” I said, lying.
My inner dialogue was telling myself I can’t give forty bucks, forty-three if you count the surcharge, to two homeless people in under five minutes! I’m not made of money! I mean, my kindness only goes so far!
And soon enough, I was home handing Jim a twenty and not feeling too good about myself.
So what’s the moral of the story? It’s not to make you feel sympathy for me, that’s for sure. Is it a happy ending since I did a little good or a sad ending because I’m a hypocrite for not giving that lady money while I was judging my friends’ past actions?
I learned a lot of lessons inside those fifteen minutes. I learned that I was wrong to think I was better than my friends for giving to the homeless. I learned there is only so much we can do, no matter how well our intentions are. I learned I was taking away the nice thing I had done when I decided to share this with you.