Being a Kindness Investor is a very interesting study in human nature. Especially my own. Especially when I allow myself to follow my gut and not my mind’s predetermined plan. For instance, my intention to give away my fifth $10 was specific: I was on my way to Ray’s, a well-known Seattle restaurant with a breath-taking view of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. On my way, I kept catching glimpses of an exceptionally clear, majestic day which was hosting glistening water and a horizon boasting one long dance of snow-capped peaks.
John holding his newspapers in front of his truck.
As I descended off a main road, preparing to make a left turn under a bridge to get to Ray’s, there stood John at the corner, several cars ahead of me. In that instant, my plans completely changed. I had to talk to him.
I made a U-turn, and then pulled around and under the bridge to park. John was clearly a bit confused as to why I was getting out of my car and approaching him. I’m sure I’d seen him before at this well-traveled intersection, but until that day, I never saw him.
John is one of hundreds of Seattle’s homeless people who sell Real Change, a weekly newspaper dedicated to advancing not only the facts (instead of assumptions) about those who are living on the streets, but also providing a safe and legitimate way for them to make money (as opposed to holding a sign or otherwise asking passers-by for spare change). When I meet a person who is offering this newspaper and asking that I purchase it for $1, I also see a badge which indicates that s/he is a bona fide participant in the Real Change extended family.
On the day I met John, the wind seemed to gather even more momentum as it whipped around the cement columns and twist through the underpass where we spoke. John’s pickup was parked near the corner where he stood patiently, albeit freezing, hoping that those who were sitting snugly in their cars would not ignore him at the stop light and perhaps buy his newspaper.
John was more than happy to accept my $10. He pointed to his truck. “I’ll probably buy some gas for my truck or propane because I live in the back-in the camper. There are a few of us who park over there in an empty parking lot at night and we use the propane to keep warm. No, I don’t light the propane in my camper,” he continued as my brow knitted in obvious concern.
“I’ve been homeless for about 12 years. I’m 43 and it all began after a very bad divorce. I lost everything, including my daughter.” John had lived a warm and productive life in Tennessee where he had a business – a store which sold everything from carpet to hardware supplies.
“We lived on a 12 and a half-acre farm. My ex-wife and her family are rich. But they wanted me gone and to keep me down. So here I am.”
I was struck by John’s optimism and confidence. Throughout our conversation he quoted several verses from the Bible which punctuated a point he was trying to make. His breath left a wake of steam as he spoke.
“I really need a job. I have a lot of experience doing many things. So if you or anyone you know needs help with building or painting or any of that kind of thing, please think of me.” John ran back to his truck and returned with a one page resume which was clean and professional. “They help us with our resumes at the office (of Real Change).”
When I asked him about staying at homeless shelters, he didn’t actually diss them but offered his own observation. “In a shelter they label you. You’re a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or just plain crazy. Hey, I’m just out of work. Besides, I like living and sleeping in my own place – as humble as it is.” He gestured to his truck again.
Throughout the years, John had been to Texas where he worked off-shore on a boat fishing, but that didn’t stick as two of the guys were drunks. He had part-time job at the post office and then decided to move to California. There, he had a sleeping bag, a tarp, and a man who helped him out by hiring him for some construction jobs.
He was quick to give the staff of Real Change a lot of credit. “This newspaper and the organization – what they do – has helped me in so many ways. I’ve been able to buy clothes and food because of it. They give me four papers free and I buy the rest for $.35 a paper. I sell it for $1, so I make $.65 off each one.”
While John’s day was just beginning, my ear lobes were bright red and my nose was running from the biting cold. And I grew up in Minnesota where this day’s weather was SOP!
I asked if he could use a blanket. “Always,” he replied with a smile. I ran back to my car and pulled a small blanket out of my emergency car kit and handed it to him. Then I remembered that I needed to buy the paper. I offered John $5 for a copy of his Real Change, he said no-I’d already given him $10!
“That was a Kindness Investor gift. This is for the paper. And since I don’t have change, please take the $5.” He did.
A hug and “good luck” was the only appropriate way to say good-bye to John. He smiled and waved as I climbed back into my car and hit the fan which blew warm air over my face and hands.
Driving home I was once again overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness. Not because I was returning to my own warm home with (some) food in the fridge and an inviting bed. I was grateful that I met John and had an opportunity to learn about him, his life, and ambitions. He really does have a striking resume. I hope I will someday be in a position to hire him. That would make me even more happy.
-Petra from Seattle, WA
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