We like to believe we will always do the right thing – that is, until we don’t.
Last week a figure leaned against a wall to my right while walking into a local restaurant. Even without a direct glance, I could tell the man was bordering between blending into the stucco wall and hoping to get someone’s attention. He was in need but unable to ask.
Helping others is easy to sign up for, harder to do without fail. Life distracts us, tricks us into thinking whatever we are doing is more important. Human nature swings both ways.
At the moment, I was scanning an email on my phone, walking towards the restaurant’s glass doors. But inside of me, I knew I was missing an opportunity. But I was, so insisted the selfish voice inside of me, in a hurry.
Inside the restaurant, the voice worked to reaffirm my decision. But the inaction stubbornly hung over me like the smell of the chicken fajitas on the crackling in the restaurant’s kitchen.
The door closed behind me, and my world moved forward – that is, until I heard the sound of metal scraping and banging from aluminum doors behind me. Turning around, I saw a younger man helping an older couple maneuver a heavy wheelchair through the narrow opening.
“Here you go,” he said. “Let me help you.”
Neither knew each other.
His sun-kissed hair danced like angry ocean waves. Silver bracelets draped from his muscled and colorfully inked arms. His energetic voice seemingly illuminated the room an extra 10 percent.
Once in the door, the older couple settled at a wooden table, and the younger man stepped into line to order his meal with his friend.
I sat down, thinking about how fortunate the world is when people are tuned in to the opportunities of helping others. I was also licking my self-inflicted wounds from earlier – no matter how hard the little voice inside tried to justify my selfish response. I’d whiffed on two opportunities.
Minutes later, the young man’s order was called, and a plate overflowing with food appeared. Getting up, he turned and stepped outside, returning with the man behind from the shadow. Bundled in a heavy coat and his most valuable possessions stored in a stained backpack, he looked down at the food. The younger man invited the shadow man to sit down and eat.
The conversation didn’t make it to me, but I did see the other man appeared uncomfortable to sit down and eat, among others. The younger man, understanding, grabbed an employee, and packaged the food to go. He then placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, made meaningful eye contact, and shared a few words of encouragement.
We all say we will do the right thing when presented with the opportunity to help others. But we don’t. I will always remember the day the universe decided to powerfully remind me there is a vast gap between signing up and acting with heart.