I first met Hank on a rainy Christmas morning three years ago. He was sitting on the sidewalk outside of Peet’s Coffee cafe where Jude, Max, and I were about to celebrate our good deeds. We’d just spent the last hour or so delivering bags of goodies to the homeless. The idea to begin a tradition came from participating in Robert MacPhee’s Prosperity Game, where each day for two weeks we received virtual checks in our email inbox and the amount doubled each day. We were to “spend” the money on anything but paying bills. It was nearing Christmas and I decided to “spend” some of my money on filling 100 bags for the homeless people on my neighborhood and include space blankets, water, food, toothbrushes, and other items. After posting my idea on the game’s Facebook page, I left my computer feeling a little sad that I couldn’t make that happen. In reality, I didn’t have what it would take to buy 100 gift bags, let alone fill them.
A couple of days passed, and I found myself thinking about my dream of filling those bags. Then it dawned on me. I didn’t have to start with 100. I could start with ten, and so I did. I enlisted Jude and Max’s help, hoping that it would instill some sense of charity in their hearts. While we may live on budgets, we do not go without. We are very blessed.
The day before Christmas Eve, the boys came over to my house, and we decorated the bags. We spent the evening with Christmas music playing, eating good food, and imagining who we might meet the next day. After the bags were filled with bottled water, a packet of instant coffee, a cutie, and a granola bar, we settled into watching a movie and eating our dessert. Christmas Eve morning we awoke to rain. Jude looked out the window and said, “Mio, how are we going to deliver our bags?” The disappointment was heavy in his voice. I too was a little worried that we might not be able to complete our good deed. “It will stop raining, Jude.” I said hopefully. Max, just about two years old at the time, hadn’t grasped the concept of our mission and was oblivious to the rain and our concern as he played on the floor with Ninja Turtles that once were his Uncle Pete’s.
By mid-morning, the sun broke through the clouds, and we loaded up a backpack, tucked Max into his stroller, and headed out onto the streets. I was a little unsure of our reception, but with each bag, I saw a smile and a twinkle of an eye. We were spreading a little holiday cheer with a bag whose contents cost a little more than $5.00. We had one bag left as we arrived at Peet’s and that’s where we met Hank. He was the only one I feared approaching. He was sitting on the sidewalk, rocking back and forth, with a deck of cards in his hands, turning one over and then another and then another. As we stood near, he acted like he didn’t notice our presence. I took a deep breath and checked in with my intuition, and my fears subsided. “Go ahead, Jude. Give him the bag.” Jude bent down and set the bag just a few inches from the cards laying on the sidewalk. Hank ceased flipping the cards, and he stopped rocking. He peered into the bag and then he cocked his head, and looked up at us with his deep brown eyes. “Merry Christmas,” I said. Jude echoed the same. Hank moved his attention back to the contents of the bag, and we slipped inside Peet’s back door.
We didn’t see Hank the next Christmas, but we did touch other lives. Jude and Max had accompanied me on the shopping trip to Costco and I worried that the gift bags would hold all that they chose––goldfish, protein bars, fruit strips, water, cuties, Emergen-C, and more. This time one of Jude and Max’s little friends, Violet, joined us along with my daughter, Shana. It was a beautiful warm day, and we walked around my neighborhood, but without much luck of finding our intended recipients. After a lunch at Project Pizza, we headed to Balboa Park. Jude and I wandered further than Max, Shana, and Violet, and when we had given away our last bag, we headed back to meet the rest of our party. As we passed by a couple exchanging gifts on a park bench, the gentleman said, “That’s really nice what you’re doing.” Jude beamed. He got it.
The tradition continued again this year. Jude takes his job very seriously decorating the bags and Max seems to enjoy stuffing them, counting the number of bars, cuties, or whatever we have to ensure that each person receives the same. This year we included the standard fair, plus a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Hank didn’t receive a bag again this year, but a few months ago, I did run into him. I was writing at Peet’s sitting at window table, overlooking the street when he came in and rummaged through the garbage and emerged with a cup of half consumed coffee. He wandered outside and stood by the bus stop, drinking the remaining contents. As I watched him, I knew I had to do more, and so I asked the man sitting next to me to watch my computer. I purchased Hank a cup of coffee, a bottle of water and a muffin, and proceeded to track him down. I found him a half a block away, and I walked up to him. “Wait, I have something for you.” He looked at me and then pointed at the building, “Look up there. The number 10.” He repeated it several times. A woman near us, said to him, “Why don’t you just take it?” He looked at her, looked at me, and pointed at the building again. “Here,” I said, “It’s yours.” I set the bag with the muffin and the water and the cup of coffee on the sidewalk and then turned and walked away. I never looked back.
A couple of weeks later, as I walked home from yoga, I sensed I needed to take a different route. A block away, I ran into Hank, and this time, he saw me. It was a warm day, and he was strolling down the street sipping a cup of coffee. Gone was his trademark dirty blue coat, and he sported a fresh hair cut. As I came closer, he leaned against the railing of an outside dining area of a restaurant. He titled his head and his brown eyes met mine as he smiled. I smiled too. He remembered.
Social activist, Howard Zinn, said, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” We never know the lives we may touch with a simple gesture of kindness. I’m not even sure of the magnitude of how Jude and Max’s lives are touched by this simple family tradition. I only know they will be––and I do know that if we follow inspiration, divine choreography creates a life even better than we believe possible.