So yesterday I started the Year of Giving. My first day of a year-long journey into exploring the act of giving and the meaning of altruism. I chose December 15th as the starting date. It marked three years since my mother died from heart disease. She was one of the most generous people that I have ever known; rarely ever doing things for herself…with the exception of getting her hair done, which she really liked. She always thought of others first and certainly serves as an inspiration to me.
I had a rather busy day yesterday, ironic for someone who is unemployed right now. In the morning I went to the gym, tried unsuccessfully to get an actual human being from the unemployment office on the phone, and did some job searching. Before I knew it it was noon. I grabbed a quick lunch and hustled down to a meeting. As I navigated my way down Connecticut, I wondered if I would see someone that I would feel compelled to give my first $10 to. I was running late and decided to do it afterwards.
After the meeting I had about a half hour to find the first person of my Year of Giving! I decided to check out Dupont Circle…I met a guy there named Jerry once (more on him some other day) and thought he would be a good recipient of my first $10. He wasn’t there, but I did see a man sitting by himself who looked really lonely…so I approached him. Now I had to figure out what I was going to say. I think I said something like, “Hi…can I sit down here. [long uncomfortable pause then while I figured out what the heck to say next] Then I just kind of blurted out, “I would like to know if I could give you $10.” He asked me to repeat what I had said. I did, then he looked at me funny and got up and left. Strike one.
I then started walking South where I spotted a man standing by the bus stop on Connecticut Ave. He appeared to be in his 60s. I don’t know what drew me to him, but I thought I would make my second attempt. I was a bit nervous and asked him which bus came by that stop. Then I explained that I was starting a year-long project to give $10 to someone every day and that I wanted to give my $10 for today to him. The gentleman, I later found out that his name was Ed, responded without hesitation that he could not accept my offer and that there were many people more deserving of the money than him. This was precisely one of the things that I hoped would happen. That people would think of others before themselves! And although I was thrilled that this happened, I still needed to find someone and I was running out of time before I needed to go and pick some friends up and give them a ride to Silver Spring. So strike two!
Then I spotted a man on the corner of 21st and P with a small bench and some shoe shine equipment. I approached Knox, a black gentleman bundled in winter clothes with just the knot of his neck-tie sticking out of his jacket. He later told me he was 50 years old, he looked much younger. I asked him if he would accept my $10. He hesitated and then agreed. He struggled to come up with an answer when I asked him what he was going to do with my $10. The alcohol that enveloped each of his words gave me a hint though of where it might go. I explained that I was not going to judge him on what he chose to do with the money, that it was his and up to him what he wanted to do with it.
We chatted for a while…he spoke of the struggles that he has had and his attempts at staying sober. “I’m about 50/50,” he said when I asked how his sobriety was. He said he occasionally goes to AA meetings, but admitted that there had been times he had got himself some eggnog before the meetings. Eggnog! What?! The last thing I would think of that a guy who wanted to get his alcohol fix for the day would want is eggnog! I laughed…and he assured me that the eggnog was good. He told me that he was probably going to buy some eggnog with the money. Oh well.
I explained what I was doing. He smiled at one moment and said, “maybe some of your readers want a shoe shine!” Please visit Knox at the corner of 21st and P if you need a good shoe shine or want to know anything about eggnog.
I had to get going. Before I left, I took a picture of Knox in front of his shoe shine stool and wished him well. I told him to stay healthy and he said he would try…and warned me of the dangers of eating chocolate bars and “peanut chews.”
UPDATE: February 23, 2011
I caught up with Knox in 2011 – click here to read the update with him and see how he is doing.