It was another bright, sunny day in Bend, Oregon as I cruised down the main drag on my way home after a run. I passed the local elementary school and saw a dozen parents standing outside. I glanced at the clock: 2:30pm.
I came to a slow stop as a man leisurely crossed the street in front of me. Every parent was decked out in expensive, athletic-inspired clothing, and looked about 40 or older. They were all tall, thin, and their skin glowed. Any one of them could have graced the cover of I Ski a Lot, Have a $2,000 Skin Care Routine, and Never Had to Work a Crappy Job and Put My Kids in After School Care magazine.
“Must be nice,” I thought. Gah! No!
I stopped my inner monologue dead in its tracks. I had just had a discussion with a friend about the “Must Be Nices.” Those friends or family members who just can’t bear to celebrate other people’s successes. That neighbor or coworker who takes one look at the surface of someone else’s life and assumes that every aspect of it is easy breezy.
We all know that person, and we’ve all been that person.
A few weeks later, once again on the way to my go-to running spot, I pulled up to a red light and noticed a man standing on the corner, holding a cardboard sign:
NEED WORK / FOOD / MONEY.
I had seen him before, and many other men holding similar signs, on that same corner. Over the past year, this sight had become more and more commonplace all over town. I felt a pang of shame and guilt every time I drove by or avoided eye contact.
I used to wonder why on earth people would stand on street corners all day when surely there were better, safer methods and resources available. In the past, I’d felt fear, and even resentment, when passing by someone holding a sign asking for help. Why should I have to play by the rules and slog away in Cubicle City just to give my money away to someone who didn’t earn it?
After my jog, I popped into Whole Foods. When I pulled away, a woman was sitting in the grass near the exit, holding a sign that read, “Every bit helps.” I suddenly remembered I was carrying cash – a rarity when I’m out running. I pulled over and quickly jumped out, praying I wouldn’t get rear ended for stopping in such an awkward spot. I handed her what money I had.
Over the next two weeks, I couldn’t get her face out of my mind. Why didn’t I do that more often?
Why was it so easy to focus on what I lacked instead of what I had? No matter what my circumstances, didn’t I have the power (and arguably, responsibility) to create a more just world through positive thoughts and actions? “A rising tide lifts all boats,” as they say.
In spiritual terms, as in tithing, I’ve often read that benevolent acts are returned tenfold. For every hug, encouraging word, and generous gesture you put out in the world, you get it back times ten.
While I’d hate for that to be my motivation, where else can you get that kind of return on investment?
After I handed the woman outside of Whole Foods money, we smiled at each other. She looked right into my eyes, and with more warmth and sincerity than I can muster when the line at Starbucks is too long, she said,
“May God bless you tenfold.”
What she didn’t say?
“Must be nice.”