In college, I was among a group of student activists who constructed a makeshift shanty-town, where we planned to sleep to raise awareness of homelessness. On the night of the event, a group of men living at a nearby emergency shelter found out and asked if they could join us.
A few students were afraid of getting closer than we’d planned to witnesses of the harsh issue we were tackling. But our visitors turned out to be kind and gentle souls who kept us up all night telling their stories.
We learned how three of them had come from Mexico, intending to make money to send to their families. When they found no work, they had become stranded. One guest was born in an orphanage and said being homeless was simply the only way of life he knew. My favorite, Earl, was having trouble getting back on his feet after spending time in prison for a minor crime. Nobody though enough of him to give him a secure place to live, but, as he showed us, he was brilliant enough to design plans for an entire underground city.
The next morning, we left our new friends and made our way to the school cafeteria. The cafeteria staffed served us mounds of waffles and omelets, which they said were “on them.”
We knew there had to be a powerful force at work to make things turn out so well: the college administration could have panicked and tried to stop us when we revealed our plans to sleep in cardboard boxes. The homeless men could have easily been cynical and dismissed us students as pampered do-gooders. We students could have rejected our homeless visitors, fearing the stereotypes that were simply not true. Instead we all shared a cup of true kindness – and were better for it.
This experience taught me that when it comes to kindness, there is very little difference between who is giving it and who is receiving it. And we all have access to the exchange of warmth and nourishment kindness brings our souls. We just need to trust enough to open our hearts. The rest will take care of itself.
By Mary S. Kittel