Jacob Tucker got the opportunity of a lifetime: to travel to another city, attend an important dinner in his industry … and get panhandled by people on the streets.
I was walking to a dinner. Not just any dinner, but what could be a significant dinner in my career. I lucked into going to one of the biggest conferences in my industry when a supervisor couldn’t attend at the last minute, which was how I happened to be attending a dinner sponsored by one of the most recognizable businesses in the field. I was in a new city, the dinner was a few blocks away, and I was running a little late having just flown in. Every second counted, pre-dinner cocktails started in just a few minutes, and I was missing my first chance to become recognizable by some of the big players.
As I was walking I was approached by homeless man asking for anything I could spare. I would like to have helped him, but I only had twenties in my wallet. I didn’t want to give this guy a twenty. Maybe I could buy him a sandwich somewhere. No, it would take too much time, cocktails were starting soon. He looked me in the eyes and I just said, “I’m sorry, I have to be somewhere.” He said, “Anything?” I said, “I’m sorry, I really have to be somewhere.” I just couldn’t help him.
I got to the dinner right on time, had a cocktail, and met a lady whose name I don’t remember. I sat at a table with the president of a company, and some other big people whose last names and companies I didn’t catch. I was offered my choice of a selection of five different wines. I had a four course meal: Bibb lettuce salad, cream of celery soup, filet mignon, a lemon tart dessert, and some coffee to finish it off. It was excellent, the conversation was engaging, and these people knew me by name before the night was over. All on someone else’s dollar.
I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
When I left I decided to just walk the streets of this new city. I heard music and followed it, running into a one man band where a guy was strapped with a bass and electric guitar, keyboard at his side, and surrounded by a drum set. As I kept walking I heard another sound. More music. A percussive beat with tones I didn’t quite recognize. I followed it and ran into a man with dirty clothes, his head down, surrounded by buckets, crates, and bottles that others had surely discarded. He was making music out of it. He looked up and said, “Hey man, do you have anything? Some food? Even just a cup of coffee?” I looked at him and walked away. He said, “Anything….” For the second time that night I walked away from someone in need.
This time I came back with a sack of groceries. Some fruit, snacks, water, and cash for whatever he wanted later. He stood up and shook my hand, told me I was a lifesaver, and just started talking. He told me his life story. His name was Daniel, he’s been homeless for about 20 years. He used to be addicted to heroin, but he’s been off of it since his girlfriend died of an overdose about ten years ago. He’s been mistreated by the police in that city. They don’t want someone like him being the image of that part of town. He’s been turned away by shelters because of past felonies. He’s been married on the streets and the best two weeks of his life were his honeymoon. They’re just friends now. As we were talking one of his buddies, Chris, came by and showed me his art. He turns trash into beauty. And it was beautiful. Daniel played some music for me and it was beautiful.
As the night was winding to close Daniel stood up and thanked me again, “I can’t thank you enough …. I won’t go hungry tonight.”
I didn’t want to leave.
The people I had met at the dinner that was so important for me to attend just a few hours earlier could never teach me as much as Daniel, Chris, and the first homeless man I snubbed did that night. I’m sure I’ll forget the individuals I exchanged names with at dinner; I’m even more certain they’ll forget about me. But for however much Daniel thinks I helped him, he and the other homeless people I encountered that night helped me much more. I can’t thank them enough.