Reflections on a Radical Act of Kindness

It’s the day after Christmas, and as is usual with December 26th, I’m a little bummed.  It helps to reflect on good memories, and the following is one of my favorites.

I used to work in downtown Tucson. Each day I would use my breaks to take a walk around the block. More often than not, these short excursions were uneventful. However, on occasion, something happened that was a teeny little bit noteworthy.

For instance, sometimes when walking past the Rialto theater I would see an artist/musician getting off of their bus. I rarely knew who the artists were (I’m more familiar with Muppets and 70’s era piano-rock icons), but I’d google the name on the marquee, confirm that who I saw was in fact the person whose name was on the marquee, and then tell everyone that I saw someone famous. One time I saw 6lack, told people in my office that I had seen “Six-lack”, and was made fun of for not knowing that the name was actually pronounced ‘black’.

Sometimes I’d see a car turn the corner headed the wrong direction on one of the downtown area’s numerous one-way streets, and listen for the sound of people honking, or onlookers yelling. Occasionally, I’d join in with the chorus.

Out of the hundreds of times that I took that walk, one thing I witnessed stands out above the rest.

Downtown Tucson had a large population of homeless, as downtowns often do, and it was that time of year when the temperature was shifting dramatically every evening. It was cold, or as cold as it gets here in the desert. One late afternoon, headed south on Church Avenue, I saw a homeless man round the corner coming from Broadway, headed my direction on the same sidewalk. He was barefoot, tall and older, shuffling his feet slowly. Soon the sun would set and the sidewalks he was walking would sting with the icy chill of temperatures approaching freezing.

A care drove past me down the one-way street and came to a stop curbside the barefoot man. The driver called to the man through his open window. “Hey there, what size shoe do you wear?” The man said something indiscernible. The driver then opened the door, took the shoes off of his own feet and handed them to the barefoot man before driving away.

I think about that act of kindness occasionally, and often this time of year. I share it pretty often. Different people respond different ways. Most people are moved by the uncommon humanity of it. Some are more cynical. i.e. the driver had probably just bought himself a new pair and was just giving his old ones away. Some acknowledge the goodness of the act, but remain rightly bothered by the fact that we live in a world where someone has to give someone their shoes.

I can’t presume to know the context of the interaction that I witnessed, wouldn’t try to, but I find it hard to imagine a scenario where there wasn’t something occurring that afternoon that was both deeply beautiful and remarkably tragic. I too, wish we didn’t live in a world where someone has to give someone else their shoes, but I’m glad that I had the opportunity to watch it happen when they did.

I treasure memories like this one. Life doesn’t afford us too many opportunities to be witness to real life parables. Events unfolding before us that strike so deeply they can’t help but ensure ongoing moments of reflection. In waiting for these stories to come to us, we’re at the mercy of the benevolence of others. The beauty here being, that it’s entirely within our power to create these stories ourselves, as often as we please and without hinderance. In doing so, we’re able to alleviate some suffering, live out the values that we espouse, and give others something to think on, even seek to reproduce.




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