Let me be frank.
The story of this article does not end with the homeless man walking away with a smile as he is motivated by my kind gesture to start a fresh new chapter in his life.
The story also doesn’t even end with him thanking me and finding appreciation for the 12.99 overpriced sandwich I bought him at a crowded New York City deli, one I consider to be the main headquarter of all touristy delis to exist on earth.
The story does, however, end with him throwing the sandwich back at my face and demanding a non-spicy and a plain chicken sandwich with ketchup. How dare I forget the ketchup.
It also ends with me fuming with anger, wondering why I even try to do any good or help others, especially when it sometimes feels like it does more harm for both parties than good.
I mean, so why do we even bother? Can we just mind our own business and go on with our busy lives? Let the homeless be homeless, let the busy be busy.
Before we go on to dissect this question, here’s what really happened:
It was a long day of painful meetings, teaching classes and skipping meals (kinda ironic that as a yoga teacher your job is to promote health, but when you’re so busy doing that you end up starving yourself all day and survive on Starbucks soy lattes. Um. But at least it’s soy..?) I walked into the overpriced touristy deli where the food is at most mediocre, but it’s bustling with people and nobody knows why. I chose a random chicken sandwich and grabbed the first juice I could find that had the words “organic” written all over it, pay the cashier and run out the store to get out of there as fast as I can, moaning under my breath as tourists shove and bounce off my elbows like loose canons in a pinball machine.
Wondering why I ever chose to live so close to Times Square, I quickly dodge for the exit of the deli as if I was in a sample sale reaching for the last pair of marked down Jimmy Choos.
Clearly, my mood is not the greatest already to begin with.
Just as I am about on my third step outside the deli, a homeless man wreaking of alcohol approaches me so intimately that I swear for a moment that we were going to make out. He immediately says “would you please buy me a sandwich?” As I looked into his eyes, it was full of desperation, hope and sadness all at the same time. His longing eyes reminded me of this puppy I saw on my instagram feed that caused me to instantly research puppy shelters closest to my NYC apartment.
My heart melted into a puddle of ooze and instantly I said “absolutely.” I turned around, walked back in and stood in line behind a group of Japanese tourists taking their good ol time reading through every single line on the menu. I stood there and waited, ordered the most nutritious item I can find. I thought ‘Poor thing. He’s probably starved all day and is running on oxygen and booze.’ I spent a great amount of time deciding which sandwich, snack and drink would provide a meal where he can instantly find all the vitamins he will need to survive for the night. The meal for sure was purchased out of love for this hungry and desperate stranger.
“I am so Mother Theresa right now,’ I thought, as I paid for his meal and heard my mother’s voice say “I’m so proud of you” all the way from South Korea. I’m kinda embarrassed to say how prideful I felt as I was making this purchase and gave up my “super precious time” for this homeless man.
I walked out of this deli and he was patiently waiting for me. I handed him the bag full of food and stood there for a few seconds waiting for his reaction. Expecting him to say “thank you so much!!” I was already feeling good as I pictured my itinerary on my iPhone calendar: Have a productive day, feed the homeless, go to bed. Cool. The karma stock is at its all time high. Go me, go.
What came next was a string of events I would’ve never guessed even in the most depressing horror movie. He looked inside the bag, saw that it was a chicken sandwich, screams “*@&#(@*#!!!” and throws the bag in my face. Yes. In. My. Face. Like as if I bagged up a ball of lard with poop smeared in it as a cruel prank. In shock and not really knowing how to handle the situation, I stared at him and asked why he did that. He started to go into a rampage about how “I got it all wrong” and that he demands a proper meal that would satisfy his hunger. I immediately walked away with so much anger running through my veins the adrenaline could’ve caused me to lift a 500 pound truck paving the roads on 5th avenue.
So many curse words running through my mind.
I didn’t know what to do with the anger. I had a couple options: 1. Call up my husband and vent 2. Call up a friend and vent 3. Vent on Facebook (sorry, guys- sometimes I am “That FB Friend”) 4. Pretend like it didn’t’ happen and do something mindless like watch TV or go on social media and probably build up the anger inside my veins and cut a few years of my life.
Believe it or not, I was so tired that I chose the last option.
As I was perusing through my feed of Trump haters (which I fully support, but that's a whole another topic), puppy lovers, baby photos and engagement pictures, I scrolled along a quote posted by a thoughtful friend, a quote I previously plastered all over my personal page, written by Mother Theresa.
The quote was this:
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good ou do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good. Give the world your best and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
It then all came together slowly, but surely. I sat in silence allowing those words to resonate through my head. Why do I even bother to do acts of kindness? Why am I so prideful that this situation caused me to feel a sense of anger and defeat?
Maybe it’s because I made it about me. I made it about how I would feel to help others, what I would achieve and feel by doing a simple act of kindness. My ego was so blown up to the point that anyone who reacted just a teeny bit negatively to my kind gesture was at fault, no matter what situation they were in or what they were facing. I had built a wall between myself and the rest of this world.
But as Mother Teresa says, it’s never about me. And it’s never about the other person. It’s what we do for the universe, God, our souls-whatever it is you believe in-that higher force that lives amongst us that uplifts humanity and this world. It’s staying loyal to what’s in our hearts and choosing to do good for humanity despite the fact that the world may never notice or return genuine appreciation. Because doing good is not about what we gain or find through it. It’s about believing in the goodness of humanity and accepting it as a human responsibility to improve this world.
Slowly over time my anger and frustration faded and I found myself becoming at peace and trying to understand the situation. How much pain and suffering did this man experience in his life to react this way? What has he gone through in his life that has caused him to be where he is at? Why am Ithe lucky one to be where I’m at, to be the one to provide this act of "kindness"? What about hisopportunity to do that?
Instead of feeling anger or confusion, I slowly started to feel a sense of deep empathy that I wish I could hold on to forever. Perhaps my heart was open and I was listening to my truth. I silently made a promise to myself that no matter what happens, that I will always try my best to provide help to those in need. Not for me, not for them ,but because I believe in the power of doing good and uplifting humanity. It’s my responsibility and my part to do everything I can while I’m alive and breathing, to better this universe with the tools I’ve been blessed with.
I’m sure I will be in this situation again, and maybe it will still be hard to swallow the pride, anger or my quick ability to judge. But I will forever keep this experience to heart and read this article over and over again as a gentle reminder to always listen to my heart and acknowledge that every situation and suffering is never about me or them.
It's about humanity, God, and my loyalty and responsibility as a living being to do what's best for humanity and this universe. It's an opportunity, privilege, and a responsibility that we are born with, one we should seek to fulfill no matter where we are in life.
Written By: Kristen Hwang
500 RYT, Vinyasa & Prenatal Yoga Teacher based in New York City. Founder of HappygirlYoga.com.