This afternoon, I had one of those reminders about life.
As I was leaving the sushi restaurant where I had lunch, a guy coming out of the 7-11 next door said hi and exchanged a little small talk. I got the sense from his demeanor that he was having a rough go of it, but he didn’t ask for money. A guy came out of the 7-11 and he asked him “can you share some change, my man?” The guy never even acknowledged him and kept walking. I asked “can you use a few dollars?” He very humbly acknowledged that he did but said he didn’t want to ask me.
I gave him the few singles I had in my wallet and he was humbly grateful for the little gesture. As I was about to walk away, I stopped and turned back. “I don’t have much cash, but do you want something to eat? I can put it on a card.” His eyes lit up and he asked for some chips or something like that. I was about to go inside 7-11 when the McDonald’s next door caught my eye. I offered to walk over with him and buy him an actual meal. He was taken aback and gratefully accepted.
“I just have to get my phone inside,” he said. He then quickly added “it’s an Obama phone, it’s free.” I told him I didn’t really care – someone with a brand new iPhone could have been struck by a tragedy and found themselves having fallen on hard times. He explained that when people see the phone (it looks like a smartphone but it has very limited features), they sometimes respond “you have a phone.” Huh? “You can’t eat an iPhone,” I said.
As we walked over to McDonald’s we talked about how we all should have a little kindness, especially in our current political climate where the ruling party would like public assistance to go the way of the dinosaurs (you know, those giant lizards that kids used to keep as pets a few thousand years ago). He excitedly said he was going to order a Big Mac value meal, that he hadn’t had a Big Mac in a while. I had just spent $35 on sushi and here was someone who was excited and grateful to be having a Big Mac.
He told me his name was David and that he was struggling to get by. He lost his job and that meant he couldn’t pay his rent. He went through a divorce. Family who he had helped in the past weren’t there for him when he fell on hard times. He was working temp jobs and doing his best to get by while he tried to find a job. But it was a struggle.
He ordered the large Big Mac value meal and I told him to add a dessert or something if he wanted it (how can you pass up those pies?). I paid for his meal and said my goodbyes – I asked him to pay the kindness forward to someone else once he gets back on his feet – and rushed off to my car before my meter expired.
It isn’t the first time I’ve bought someone lunch at that McDonald’s, nor even the second. I’ve been struck by the gratitude each time I’ve done it – no one has ever declined saying they just want money or taken the gesture for granted (well, one person sort of did – it turned out she wasn’t alone and her friend was hungry too). Maybe it’s something about that store? I spent less than a third of what I just spent on my lunch (and little more than the cost of the indulgent Unicorn Frappuccino I haven’t had a chance to try) but to him it meant a lot.
Many of us live just one unfortunate incident away from finding ourselves in similar situation – a lost job, an accident, an illness, divorce, a family tragedy. In this climate, with an administration that would gladly cut the supports of what is left of our social safety net, it’s sometimes worth stepping back and contemplating.