For Thirty Days I was Batman
Kindness Changes Everything
Nearly every month, for over a decade, I have attended Community Bridge-Building Network Meetings in Pittsburgh, PA–but something notable happened last month that seems to have changed me and other members in a way I never would have expected. Recently our group had agreed to collect money monthly to create a “random acts of kindness pot” to be distributed by one member over a thirty day period to folks in need. This one member was to be a steward of the will of the group until the next meeting, when another member would pick up the charge….the only requirement was to “put the money to good use-to meet the need of someone else”. There were few rules, one being that the money was not to go to an established agency or organization, but to an individual. The challenge was to see if you could change someone’s life.
Last month my name was randomly selected to “commit random acts of kindness”- and put the money contributed by the group to its best use. I felt the weight of the group’s expectations squarely on my shoulders. I didn’t want to let them down. I also wanted to spend their money wisely. So….I began to really pay attention to everyone, and I mean everyone, who I came into contact with, even people who were simply talking within my earshot. I listened to their words closely and observed their eye language, and even their breathing tempo. I began to “tune-in” to the needs of others rapidly and completely. Because of my physical and emotional proximity to folks talking, walking, sitting, struggling, I began to be totally “other oriented”—an almost out of body experience occurred. My senses became heightened as I scanned crowds or the faces of people for any trouble or difficulty they might be experiencing. I literally felt like batman-my hearing seemed to be enhanced. I actually heard every word spoken to me or around me. My visual acuity seemed to increase ten-fold, I saw minute gestures and movements people within my peripheral vision were making. I begin to experience complete selflessness. It was all about them….
I opened up more doors for people, carried more packages for folks, stepped aside for those in a hurry, and even kneeled on the concrete pavement to tie the unlaced shoes of a homeless gentleman about to get on public transportation to avert his tripping over his own two feet. Yet, I had given away not one cent of the money I possessed. I realized then that having the money had actually changed me—because I had the full potential to assist anyone financially that I encountered, at a moment’s notice, I was empowered to do what I could for everyone and anyone. At that moment I realized it wasn’t about the money at all. It was about the spirit of giving. It wasn’t about “giving till it hurts, it was about giving until it heals”. How could a gentle glance from a homeless man, and a simple “thank-you” whispered under his breath make me feel so validated? Yet again, I had not spent one penny of the money entrusted to me.
Time was running out, I had 2 days left to disburse the funds….I prayed, I meditated, I asked friends and neighbors about anyone who might be in financial difficulty. Everyone knew someone who needed money, yet I was looking for something or someone who continued to elude me. Then it occurred…..
Walking downtown on my way to pick up my car after work, I happened to be passing a nondescript grey building, which I recognized within an instant as the storefront of Travelers Aid. I knew it was closed, as it was after 5:00 pm, yet a middle aged man was standing in front of the doorway muttering to himself. He looked distraught, in anguish. I said, “Hello, can I assist you in any way?” His eyes were swollen as he seemed to be attempting to hold back a stream of tears. He said, “You sure can, I was praying this very moment that God would help me and almost at that very instant, you appeared out of nowhere.” “What do you need”, I probed further. “Well, I need to go back home, I’m in trouble, and now I’m stuck with no car and six dollars to my name.” “Where is home?” I quizzed the stranger. He responded that he lived in Buffalo New York and had driven to Pittsburgh with a friend. His friend had been arrested that morning and the car they had been driving in was impounded. I hesitated for a moment….the stranger seemed to read my thoughts as he pulled out his New York driver’s license and told me his name, he then pointed to the logo on his jacket and said, “This is the company that I work for, I’m a car mechanic”. I moved forward a bit and asked pointedly “What exactly do you need to get back to Buffalo?” “I need exactly $57.00 for a Greyhound bus ticket.” I counted out fifty-seven dollars and then another twenty. “Here is the money for the ticket and enough to get something to eat and find a way home from the bus station once you are at your final destination.” “God bless you”, the man stated earnestly, “you might have just saved my life! “Maybe, maybe not….how would I ever know for sure”, I pondered.
Once I had gotten into my car, I decided to stop by my mom’s house for a quick visit to chat about the stranger. When I told her of my meeting with the stranger, she didn’t hesitate to respond, “Your instincts about helping this man were right, always follow your instincts.” At that moment my mother’s friend came out of the kitchen doorway, clutching a church envelope to her chest. “I need to find twenty dollars to put into this envelope”, she stammered, “I’m broke”. Every year the local Ukrainian Church blesses graves of deceased loved ones on Mother’s Day…..all you have to do is express your interest and place an offering in the designated envelope with the name of the deceased inside. This offering had special significance for this woman however; ---the deceased was not her mother but her child. A child born over fifty seven years ago, with a very short time in her mother’s arms, less than twenty minutes. I opened up the little purse and deposited a twenty dollar bill into the envelope and sealed it shut. “Thank you, you’ll never really know what this means to me on Mother’s Day”, the friend ruefully exclaimed.
One evening left….the purse still full of money. As I waited in line with my daughter at a movie theatre, I overheard a man talking about the recent death of his mother. “My mom wanted only one thing-to die and be buried in Pittsburgh, PA -this was her home. She died in Columbus, Ohio, however, and now my family and friends are putting our money together to find a way to bring her home.” I recognized the man as a casual acquaintance and approached him, “Is there some way I can help you?” I queried. “Sure, only if you have a purse full of money, it’s all about that now,” he noted with a hint of resignation. “Well, in fact, I may be able to assist you in a small way,” I volunteered. Then I opened up my purse, and distributed the remaining cash into this gentleman’s hand. He looked bewildered and asked, “Why would you help a virtual stranger?” “Because I’m Batman”, I thought. What I said was this, “It is very important to know that there are people who care about you and love you even if they don’t know you yet or have never met you…..they have foresight to know you are out there and maybe, just maybe, they can be of assistance to you.” “It is not about me or you alone, it is about all of us—together.”
Thirty days of being Batman has drawn to a close. No criminals were captured, no villains were jailed; no racing off in the bat mobile was necessary. Yet, I felt I had fought the good fight. I had, indeed, assisted many, many folks during the past month. I had given away my time, energy, compassion and the money entrusted to me for disbursement, but in the process I had received so much more, more than I had ever expected.