Last night I returned from Vail where I experienced the rich and beautiful at every turn while accompanying a friend for her post surgery follow ups.  I like to observe, to listen and there was plenty for me to absorb.  I noted several conversations while I was there in which people complained about what I considered trivial things, many of which they had the power to change.

This morning I woke in my own bed in a humble and modest part of the Midwest where it happened to be garbage and recycling day.  Because I’m a bit of a freak about getting every last bit out of my house before the moment the trucks appear to take it away for me, I ventured out for the second time to purge my house of a few more recyclables left over from breakfast.  I witnessed a man with a grocery cart going through the blue plastic recyclable containers in search of bottles and cans with nickel deposits.  He looked up and waved at me.

Him:  Good morning!

Me:  Good morning!  *waves*

Without a conscious thought, I hustled back inside, grabbed a $20, headed back to the front door to see where he was and if I could catch him.  He had moved to my neighbor’s so I walked out into the street, wearing pajamas and bed head, and approached him.  He looked at me quizzically, trying to read my expression and anticipate what I wanted with him.  I would guess not everyone had kind things to say to him as he dug through their disposables.

Me, with a smile:  Hi!  What’s your name?

Him: Charles!

Charles takes his glove off and reaches out to shake my hand.

Charles: It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?

Me:  Yes, it is.  Another beautiful day.  I’m Sarah.  Could you use this?

I continue up to him in my slippers through snow and ice frozen to the curb and reach out to shake his hand.

Charles’ questioning eyes look at me like I’ve lost my mind.  He shakes my hand and takes the bill.

I hold his gaze and continue to smile at him probably looking like a bit of a maniac with my hair going in many directions that defy gravity.

Me:  Have a great day, Charles.  Good luck with your hunt.

Charles:  Thank you!  I have a big morning ahead of me staying ahead of the trucks.  You have a great day!  Thank you!

I turn and my feet crunch their way back to the street.  I make my way to my driveway, trying to hold it together until I get back in the house.  I turn to look at him as I walk in my door.  He is still watching me intently and hasn’t moved since I shook his hand.  I wave and he waves back.  I continue inside, close the door behind me and start shaking uncontrollably.  I begin to sob.  I can’t articulate exactly why but the thought that goes through my head, that repeats on a daily basis, is that I cannot always change my own circumstances but maybe, in a minuscule way, maybe I can affect someone else’s.  I don’t know if or how I may have changed his but I know in my attempt at a tiny act of kindness, that *I* had a powerful experience of shared humanity that I’m still feeling at this moment.  He smiled, waved and conveyed how happy he was to have a gorgeous January day to search for cans and bottles to return for coins, maybe a few dollars.  His cheerfulness and upbeat attitude was a gift to me.

My intention in sharing this story is to convey that small acts of un-pay-backable kindness can have deep effects on yourself, for certain.  Others?  Maybe.  They move me to my soul and I hope everyone can experience the same thing, a small moment of compassion, of warmth and connection.  Seeing Charles reminded me how fortunate I am to have a home with heat, food in my fridge, a car in the garage, loved ones surrounding me and that I woke up feeling good this morning.  I’m not presumptuous enough to pretend I know Charles’ story but if I had to bet, his life is not comfortable.  Charles was not the fortunate one in this interaction.  I was.  I am.