On taking risks and slowing down

Christmas Eve.  The airport is busy.  People have extra bags filled with boxes within boxes within boxes, wrapping paper ripped at the corners from being shoved into one of many suitcases.  The air is interrupted by the voice waves of chattering travelers, most foreign, as we exit through the international security line.  Amongst the conversations, zipping up of suitcases and rolling wheels on moving walkways, there is stillness, a silence that perhaps isn’t otherwise found except on Christmas Eve at the airport.  I was expecting it to be crazy, but instead, people smile and move slowly.  Not too slowly, the slow that would make one late for their flight, but the slowness of taking each step intentionally, moving out the way when someone is coming by with their suitcase, smiling and saying “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” (from the brave, or perhaps the ignorant).  There is calmness in the air.  

And it reminded me.

As I was riding passenger to the airport, my closest friend weaving in and out of traffic, we stopped at a red light and I saw him.  A man shaking, quietly pleading for some change, any change, just enough change to grab a warm drink.  I rolled up my window and put my sunglasses on.  He walked up to another man, in the most non-invasive way, desperately but humbly asking for change, and the other man, the one with his eyes glued to his cell phone, did not look up.  Instead, he walked over to his car and got in, leaving the hungry man standing there.  The light turned green and we sped off.  The scene felt all too familiar, because, just as the man with his eyes glued to his cell phone ignored the hungry man, I rolled up my window and donned my sunglasses.  

I realize there is risk involved with helping a stranger.  Too often many of us have helped someone in need, only to have said-needy-person take complete advantage of us.  I remember once dedicating a few months to helping a homeless artist on the street, only to have this person turn into a stalker where I couldn’t walk alone downtown.  The only thing that remedied the situation was packing up and moving to a new country.  Homeless people would sleep outside the door step of my new apartment, but I vowed to myself that I would never help a homeless person again, not after what had happened.  And so, each morning I would walk by the man with the long white beard and grocery cart who only ever wanted thirty five cents, and the yelling man with a blonde beard, and the lady who would change next to my door.  I’m not giving them money, they’ll just use it to buy drugs.  And maybe they will.  And maybe the won’t.  Maybe a sandwich is better to give instead.

There is risk, yes, but there’s always going to be need, and there’s always going to be a decision to take the risk and step out, stand out, be different, lend a helping hand, and also the decision to not take the risk, not step out, not be different, and not lend a helping hand.  

The calmness at the airport, the smiles and small acts of kindness makes me wish I would have kept my window rolled down and my sunglasses off.  It wasn’t much to hand the man some extra change, or at the very least, to acknowledge his very existence as a human being, just like you and me, trying to make our way through life on this confusing and beautiful planet.  

This is what I want for the New Year, to slow down, keep my eyes up and open, understand that life is filled with risks that can be beautiful opportunities worth taking.  Whether it’s a smile, a conversation, buying someone’s coffee, making a meal for a friend or stranger, holding the elevator for the person running late, driving someone to the airport, or a simple text message that says, you’re great.  Perhaps the risk is larger, I don’t know.  But I know that risks are worth taking, being kind to someone is never going to be all that bad, slowing down to see the existence of people around you and making yourself available to help someone else, I know that these risks are entirely worth taking.