I had a very interesting experience yesterday at work during a shift that was otherwise destined for infinite nothingness.
I'm a bartender at a corporate restaurant, and Monday lunch is always terribly slow. To top it off, rain was hovering all day, making the patio utterly unappealing. Thankfully my good friend was sitting at the bar, keeping my mind off the empty patio and the monotony that is my job.
A hostess came outside to me saying there was a homeless man on the far side of the patio, sitting in a chair with his feet up on the tabletop. This is not uncommon, at all; any male employee is essentially security during the day, and the presence of the homeless is a daily thing. I calmly left my bar to approach the man.
He looked like hell. Probably 30 or so, I imagined he was the splitting image of Cobain, had Kurt not blown his brains out and instead let his drug use spiral into homelessness. I politely told him that he had to leave the premises. His response was, "Why, I have money?"
I asked what he would like, to which he simply replied water.
As I walked back to the bar to get this water, I was conflicted. On one hand, he was justified in being somewhat indignant about my attempted rejection. On the other hand, what else was I to assume based on his lack of respect, boots on the table and all?
Anyway, I walked back over with a glass of ice water, and when he reached for it I pulled back slightly. I said, in a somewhat raised voice, "Listen man, if you want to be treated like a human being, then you need to act like a human being. Get your feet off the table." He pulled his feet off immediately and mumbled sorry while looking sheepish. There was something revealing about it, almost as if being homeless leads him to believe he needs a tough, rebellious exterior to survive.
Returning to the bar, I talked about it with my friend, who was entertained by the events. I realized I wanted to do more, so I went inside to the kitchen. I poured a large bowl of soup and put some crackers on the side, then proceeded out to the patio. Setting it down in front of him, I told him that this one is on me. He managed to give a genuine thank you before nearly drowning himself in the bowl. He ate like a man who hadn't eaten in three days. Maybe he hadn't. When he was done, I asked for his name. His name was Ray. I introduced myself and shook his hand, asking if he'd like a pop. He politely told me that he would love a Coca-Cola, and I obliged. He drank his pop on the patio while I tended to some guests on the bar.
I wanted to sit down with him and ask his story, but by the time I'd finished with my guests he was gone. I did a lot of reflecting on the whole situation after my shift, and thought of a few things. The only reason that I was able to give a homeless man soup on the patio is because the patio was empty. Had there been other guests around, I'm willing to bet I would have had a talking to by management about my serving Ray soup instead of ejecting him. Corporate is all about appearances.
The other thing I thought about was the fact that the bowl of soup cost the company pennies, but probably changed Ray's entire day. That being said, we are a business, not a soup kitchen. I wish everyone could have a bowl of soup, but they can't. It's the same with homeless people pan handling in the streets, essentially. I would love to give them all change, but in the end I'd up sitting on the street beside them. It's often only reasonable to help one or two people out with the resources you have.
But hey, I can give Ray a bowl of soup, or the pan handler a coin. You can give someone something to eat or a little bit of change without breaking the bank. So can your friends, and my friends.
See where I'm going with this? That's a lot of soup and coins.