A Random Act of Kindness
September 24, 2018
Author: Br. Jerry Smith
Although the serving of the daily community meal at St Ben’s begins at 5:00 pm, guests sometimes start lining up outside the door at 4:00, or even earlier. Convinced that the waiting time could be utilized in a more constructive way than simply standing in place, staff decided to institute what has become known as “Talk Tuesday.” All who are in line at 4:15 on Tuesdays are invited into the hall, provided a drink and snack, and encouraged to “talk” about the topic of the day. Selected by social worker Linda Barnes, the question is designed to elicit upbeat answers, so that—in the words of Ms. Barnes—at the conclusion of the session at 5:00 pm participants will “feel a little bit better than they did when they came in.”
Throughout the months the approximately twenty-five guests in attendance have talked about “the best thing that has happened to me this week”, or “a treasured childhood memory”, or “an act of kindness I have experienced recently.” It was this last subject that elicited a most memorable response from a middle-aged gentleman who indicated that he has been homeless for several months.
“Bill”, as we will call him, said that he had been sleeping one hot night on the grass in a near-by park. He said that he had taken off his shoes, and that they had been beside him when he woke up at midnight. But when he woke up again two hours later, they were gone. He said he thought he knew who had stolen them, as earlier that evening he had had a verbal altercation with another “resident” of the park, and that his first impulse was to go and find him and confront him. “But then I thought, ‘It’s only a pair of shoes, and it’s not worth going to jail again for that.”
But he was still angry an hour later when the Street Angels (a group of “angels” who nightly reach out to homeless individuals throughout the city) appeared. He recounted his story to them, and then an amazing thing happened. One of the angels took off his shoes and gave them to Bill, saying, “You need these more than I do. I have more shoes at home.”
“And do you know what?” Bill asked the group. “Those shoes were brand new. I smelled them.” The response of the group? Boisterous laughter and sustained applause.
Postnote: A week later I was talking with a group of Street Angels who came to the meal. I related to them Bill’s story, and one of the angels said, “I heard that story before. The man who gave his shoes to Bill is my brother.”