A few months ago, I was walking through a Target parking lot and saw a very beat-up-looking car with soap paint on the windows declaring: "Just married!" and "California or BUST!"
With it's hood up, it looked very much like a bust.
My heart went out to the young couple but figured there was nothing I could do. Then I reached into my pocket and found a $20 bill. I almost never have cash on me so I took it as a sign. I took it out of my pocket and as discreetly as possible, tucked it under their windshield wiper.
My heart was soaring the rest of the day and I wanted to tell everybody how great it felt to do that for strangers. But I stopped myself. How could I talk about it without sounding like I wanted a pat on the back? How could I genuinely convey that this selfless act was in fact really selfish because of the enormous boost in personal power I felt for the rest of the day?
Then, about a week ago, my husband and I were going home after a date night in downtown Portland. As we approached an intersection near the Steel Bridge, the light turned green... and a man with a garbage bag stumbled into the road. The car next to me and I slowed to allow him to pass unfettered even though it was clearly our turn.
I'm not proud that my first thought was that he had pretty nice shoes for a drunk homeless guy.
But as the man reached the middle of the road, he stumbled and fell. And he didn't get up.
I inched forward and asked my husband, Matt, to get out and help him up, which he did. The man from the car next to us had already gotten out of his car.
The lights cycled through and cars backed up as my husband called 9-1-1 and the other driver helped the man get up and cross to the other side. No one honked.
The homeless man refused further help and we went on our way.
As we left, I asked Matt what happened. He said the man had had his toes amputated that day — frostbite? diabetes? — and that was why he was having difficulty walking. We were sad and quiet for a long while. Then I said I wish I carried cash to give to him and my husband wondered if we should have bought him a hotel room for the night.
I think before this year, we would have just thought: "Crazy drunk" and tried to extricate ourselves from the situation as soon as possible. Instead, we left strategizing how we might better help the next person who comes across our path.
Because of the kindnesses shown to us this year on a person-to-person level, we now realize how much more meaningful giving is between individuals. Giving to charities (or, c'mon, let's be honest, intending to give to charities) feels safer, but there is an enormous power is simply seeing a need and answering it.
There are lots of big, ubiquitous charities out there — ones for disabled children, children's hospitals, premature babies, etc., etc. — and despite being very much the type of people those organizations profess to help, as far as I can tell my family has yet to see a dime from them. I think in some ways we've gotten lured into the belief that the small tax boost you get from nonprofit status is worth more than simply giving money directly to people you see hurting.
But maybe that belief is starting to change for others, just as it has for me in the past few months. A few days ago, as I was leaving my bank where I was depositing a check from Malachi's children's book fundraiser, I discovered that someone had stuffed $2 into my driver's side door.
You know how when something bad happens, like your car gets vandalized, and you think with fear and sadness: "Why me? Did the vandal know me personally? Did I do something to piss them off? Or was it just totally random?"
This person's $2 might not seem like much, but the rest of the day I had the same thoughts with joy and love in my heart: "Why me? Did this person know me personally? Did I do something to make them think I was awesome or in need of help? Or was it just completely random?"
Spending the day pondering all of the reasons why I might be worthy of someone's random act of kindness was well worth those $2.
So, sorry, random person. I'm sure you wanted me to spend those $2 on a latte treat or to buy my kids something fun, but I'm gonna blow it on my new addiction:
Giving it to the very next person I see who could use it.