If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren…you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.
Before I drove into Boulder yesterday to meet a friend for lunch, I checked the supply of food donation bags in my car. I knew that as I drove around the city, there would be ample opportunities to offer them to people in need.
As I came off of the parkway, two young men stood along the side of the road, cardboard signs in hand. The traffic light was red and I was at the end of the line of cars, so I rolled down my window, caught the attention of one of them, and offered him two bags of snacks – one for each of them. He smiled graciously, complimented me on my “beautiful smile,” and offered me blessings for my kindness.
We chatted a bit, and by the time I reached the stop light, it had turned red again. The second gentleman, who had remained by the light, apologized that I had to wait for the light again because of the time spent chatting with his friend. I quickly told him that he owed me no apology. I was glad to be able to slow down, offer the bags of food, and share a moment of kind conversation. He thanked me again for the food.
“People don’t always realize that sometimes we don’t eat anything at all for two days or so,” he said.
“I can’t imagine how hard that must be,” I answered. “Truly, I’m glad to be able to do my small part to change that, at least for today.”
His friend had come back to his side by now, and the three of us continued to chat.
“We made these bags as a family,” I told them, “ensuring we’re always able to help someone who’s hungry.”
To which he responded, “Sometimes people forget that I’m somebody’s child too. Thank you for seeing that.”
Though hidden by my sunglasses, my eyes welled up. “We are all God’s children,” I said, “and in our human family, kindness, compassion, love, and warmth all matter.”
When the light turned green, they again offered their thanks and wished me a “blessed day.” I wished them the same, turned down the road and continued on my way.
Each time we put a little food and drink into the hands of those who are struggling, I’m always struck that it is they who – without fail – offer us their blessings. We who are blessed with ample food, drink, warmth, and shelter, receive the blessings of those with so little to give.
It really should be the other way around.
Indeed, it is we who can bestow blessings: a kind word, a smile, spare change, food, and drink. Although doing so won’t substantially alter the lives of the men and women we encounter, such acts reflect our belief that we all are created b’tzelem elohim (in God’s image). And, by carrying a spark of the Divine spirit within us, each of us truly is “somebody’s child” for we are all God’s children. It is in this way that we must see – really see – one another, and what I strive to do whether I’m volunteering for the Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow program at Congregation Har HaShem or offering food donations to those in need.
In the end, don’t we all want to be seen as part of the human family? To be offered a warm smile and to have our struggles acknowledged? Don’t we all want an outstretched hand, and an escape from judgment about where we are in life and how we got there? Can we ever truly believe that we know somebody else’s entire story simply because we glimpse a single chapter?
I’m somebody’s child, too. And I have children of my own. And when they look out at the world, I want them to view it with open eyes and open hearts.
Our little bags containing fruit cups, nuts, cereal bars, crackers, water, and more, won’t change things. Neither will the evenings we spend setting up blankets and handing out food to our homeless neighbors. Rather, they’re small, temporary answers to a much larger issue.
But when I reflect on my experience yesterday, I believe that in those shared moments, each of us was changed, and that the humanity fostered in our exchange offers glimmers of hope for the future.