Those of you who know my beloved Shawna know that she has a big mouth. And a big temper. And if you know Shawna, then you probably also know that she has an even bigger heart. One of the biggest hearts on the planet.
My personal relationship to charity and my role in solving the various problems in the world is confused and has always been confused. I give a small amount of money to a few charities. Not any amount that I really feel. I donate clothes to Goodwill and ARC because it’s convenient — they come and pick up things I don’t want anymore. These acts are so small, I’m almost embarrassed to count them as charity. What is someone like me going to do to solve seemingly intractable problems like homelessness? Like racism? Like poverty? I’ve always cowered in the face of the notion of “solving” those issues. Where does one even begin?
Last weekend, Shawna and I were about to pull away from the Family Dollar store. It was day 5 of the frigid cold snap where temperatures were typically -9 degrees at night and barely 10 during the day. Shawna saw a homeless guy sitting against the wall in the alley. She said she wanted to stop and see if there was anything she could do to help him.
Inside, I was thinking, “I’m tired. I want to go home. I have things to do at the house. I don’t know how to help homeless guys. What are we going to do, buy him food? That helps him today, but what about tomorrow? This is much bigger problem than helping this one guy can do anything about.”
I said, “Okay.”
She said, “Are you going to come?”
I said, “I’m going to stay in the car, if that’s ok.”
So Shawna went and introduced herself to the guy. They talked a bit and then he got up, and they both went back into the store together.
Shawna bought him long underwear, some food and some milk, the things he said he could use. Fourteen dollars. (Fourteen dollars she can’t really afford, by the way.)
When she got back into the car, she told me a little of his story. No family, from Pennsylvania, not staying in Denver, but just trying to get through the next few days. Slept out all of the last several frigid nights.
Then she was mad at me for seemingly not caring.
I was actually deeply touched. Brought to tears in fact. But because I’m a man, I couldn’t express it to her in the same moment that she was yelling at me. Men aren’t built for that.
I do care. I’ve just never known how to not shy away from those problems. And sometimes it takes your broke-ass, phenomenal, huge-hearted girlfriend to teach you how to be kind and compassionate, even if just one kind act at a time.