Paying Forward

Eric Herman Headshot

Eric HermanThis blog really doesn’t have anything to do with aquatics, but I’m thinking it’s worth sharing anyway. So I humbly beg your kind indulgence.

I grew up in southern California, which unfortunately has more than its share of homeless people. As a result, like most, I’ve been confronted countless times by these down-and-out souls asking for money. (These days, I live on California’s  central coast on the Monterey Bay and although it’s just about the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, the homeless are sadly well represented even here in the arms of paradise.)

I’ve always struggled with my conscience when confronted by people begging because sometimes it is obvious that some panhandle as a moneymaking scheme, while in other instances they do clearly need the help, or so it seems. It’s always a tough situation and most of the time I’ve erred in favor of helping out in small ways in the form of handing over a buck or two when asked. 

For the past few years, I’ve taken to asking these people if I can buy them food instead of handing over cash, my thinking being if they’re really hungry they’ll take me up on the offer, and I’m happy to report that most of the time, they go for it. 

Well, this happened recently as I was walking past a Taco Bell on my way to Safeway. An extremely rough looking man who appeared as though he hadn’t bathed in a year approached me and said he hadn’t eaten in days. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was in a terribly weakened state so I obliged him and bought him a burrito and a soda – cost me just over three bucks. 

He seemed genuinely appreciative and I felt good about lending a hand to someone who was obviously hungry. 

The very next day I was going back to the store when I saw the same man across the parking lot. An elderly woman was walking past him and he obviously asked her for a “donation” to which she shook her head no. Then, just a few seconds later, the woman tripped and fell right in front of an oncoming car, which was driving far too fast for a parking lot. The homeless guy immediately leapt to her aid, putting himself between her and the car, which screeched to a halt. He helped her up and then gathered her things that had fallen out of her grocery bag. 

The woman was extremely upset and started to cry. The driver got of the car got out to make sure the woman was okay. She appeared to be bleeding from her knee and was limping badly. After a moment, she regrouped and with the aid of the homeless guy and the driver, and made her way to her car. 

Wanting to do something constructive, I got out my “smart phone” and Googled a local food bank. I jotted down the address on a scrap of paper and walked over to the homeless man and gave it to him. He remembered me and was extremely thankful. I in turn told him I saw what had just happened and said that I for one appreciated his quick action. 

That’s really all that happened, but as I made my way into the store I couldn’t help but think there was an object lesson in there somewhere, perhaps a small message that in some ways we are in fact responsible for each other. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I can’t help thinking that if heaven forbid I was ever hungry, or fell down in parking lot when I’m old and frail, that someone would be there to lend a helping hand somehow. 

I really don’t mean to preach or anything of the sort, but I do feel that because we live in the greatest and most abundant society ever in the history of the world that most of us can afford to occasionally act on others’ behalf. And just maybe we should do so without any expectation other than the small satisfaction that comes from helping someone else, even if it’s just a matter of buying a burrito or helping someone after they trip and fall. 

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