Lessons on Courage from a Mother and a Homeless Man

“Fear cannot take what you do not give it.” ~ Christopher Coan

Fear is something that we all experience, in some form, every single day. Fear of failure, rejection, pain, loss … Just the thought of these worst case scenarios can be completely paralysing. This week on my kindness journey I met two people whose everyday realities would be many people’s worst fear. But rather than giving up or dwelling on the negative they chose to respond with courage and even gratitude.

For my 92nd day of kindness I donated blood. At the blood bank a middle-aged lady sat next to me sitting back with eyes closed, headphones in and a smile on her face. I admired how calm and content she seemed. I don’t have a problem with needles and I feel very positive about donating, but I still don’t enjoy the experience enough to be smiling about it! When the nurse came over to check on the lady, she took out her headphones, breathed deeply and said, “I’m okay as I keep listening to the music.” The nurse enquired what she was listening to and she said it was her son’s favourite band. It helped her to overcome her fear of needles and think instead about her teenage son, who was seriously ill and relied on blood transfusions to stay alive – surely one of the worst fears for any mother. She said she regretted letting her fear stop her from donating before he became ill but a positve side to his illness was that it had given her the determination to help others now.

The nurse nodded knowingly – I suppose she hears those kinds of stories every day. But I certainly don’t. I wanted to tell the lady that she was amazingly courageous. That her story was incredibly touching. That she had just made me really, truly realise how important this all was. But before I could say anything at all she had put her headphones back in, closed her eyes and begun to smile again. And just imagine, for eight minutes of our time and a little bit of discomfort we could all be giving three more people the happiness of knowing their loved one has a second chance at life.

On my 93rd day of kindness I experienced another story of facing fears that will stick with me for a long time to come. I decided it was the day to give away $10 to a stranger. While walking through the city I decided I would smile and say hello to people, and maybe the right person would present themselves. This resulted in having a lovely chat with an elderly gentleman about what he felt were the keys to a happy life: a good attitude and a good night’s sleep. I also said hello to a couple from Florida and offered to take a photo of them in front of the Opera House. They said they thought Sydney was the most beautiful city in the world and the people were “just super dooper friendly”. No arguments here.

Continuing my walk I noticed a homeless man sitting on the footpath, holding a sign simply saying “Please help me”. His head was bent so slow it was almost touching the ground as a constant stream of people rushed by, not a single one acknowledging he was there. I hesitated. Would he accept food rather than money? What could I do to make him feel validated and respected? What could I say to him to find common ground, and not sound condescending? As I approached it was clear it had been a long time since anyone had taken the time to look him in the eye and say hello, and he was beyond grateful when I did.

It turned out I needn’t have worried about what to say, simply demonstrating I was open to conversation was enough. He told me his story from before he lived on the streets – he had lost his job and then been kicked out by his wife. He did not blame his boss or his wife, because he took the job and the marriage for granted and this was the consequence. After I had bought him a sandwich, coffee and newspaper (for around $10) he then told me his terrifying reality – he had to sleep during the day and stay awake during the night for fear of being set on fire, as had already happened to him three times. So it was not possible for him to get a good night’s sleep, but he certainly had an astoundingly positive attitude. He was determined to get his life back, he was saving little by little and told me with a smile, “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ I get off the streets, it’s ‘when’.”

Gratitude is the first lesson: to never take for granted when our loved ones are healthy and well, when we live in a place that is safe and beautiful, when we have a job, a home and people that love and support us even when we make mistakes. But beyond this, the second lesson is choice: we cannot stop things falling apart, and most of the time we cannot even stop ourselves fearing that things might fall apart in the future. But we can choose to feel the fear, and keep smiling anyway.

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lexy Raine
    Jul 08, 2011 @ 07:23:05

    Those were both such beautiful stories Cat, thank you so much for sharing! It’s amazing how much beauty you can find in this world and the incredible stories you can hear when you take the time to really listen and acknowledge others. 🙂

    Reply

    • happydancecat
      Jul 09, 2011 @ 09:21:40

      Very true, Lexy. The more I challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone, the more amazing people I meet and powerful lessons I learn. The biggest kindness and most long lasting one is making someone feel validated.

      Reply

  2. goodbyereality411
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 02:06:07

    I think the biggest life lesson is realizing that somethign bad can happen at any moment.

    Reply

    • happydancecat
      Jul 10, 2011 @ 11:08:17

      Well yes, I suppose it is, because being reminded of our fragility can make us more grateful and provide the courage to live a bigger life. I would also add that realizing something good can happen at any moment is just as important!

      Reply

  3. stevepmoore
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 14:08:35

    Great post Cat – very thought-provoking. Makes me aware of all that I am taking for granted, right now at this moment. And makes me more grateful for all those things. Keep up the voyage of kindness!

    Reply

  4. happydancecat
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 23:05:07

    Thanks Steve. Yeah, if I’m ever having a bad day I will think about that man and know its possible to be positive even when things are much worse!

    Reply

  5. Trackback: ‘Help Others’ Story « Happiness is a Lifestyle
  6. Cameron Brooks
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 23:38:44

    An invisible chasm exists between homeless people and the rest of society, and we need more people like you making efforts to bridge that gap. Per capita, our town has the highest poverty rate in the state so homelessness is endemic. After reading your post, two glaring questions remain: Who sets fire to homeless people, and are they prosecuted?

    Reply

    • happydancecat
      Jul 14, 2011 @ 12:03:21

      There is a huge chasm, Cameron, and it can be extremely daunting to bridge it at first, but it’s too important not to.

      As he was telling me the story the man kept shaking his head and asking, “Who does that to another human being?” It was one of those unanswerable questions that break your heart. I would like to think there was some kind of punishment for such a horrific crime, but since it has happened repeatedly it would seem that either the police can’t catch them or they just don’t care. Either way, it was beyond remarkable that this man had even a shred of positivity about his life, let alone an unwavering determination to not only survive but thrive and make his life a success.

      Reply

  7. tin
    Jul 14, 2011 @ 00:30:04

    That is very inspiring. Reading your blog must be a sign that I should stop complaining too much and start counting my blessings. Thank you for posting 🙂

    Reply

    • happydancecat
      Jul 14, 2011 @ 11:12:22

      Thanks, Tin. Well, we all complain – it’s human nature! – but I find that when I take a moment to count my blessings, I forget all the things I had been complaining about to start with!

      Reply

  8. Trackback: 100 Days, 100 Kindnesses « yearofkindness
  9. Trackback: Going with the Ebb and Flow « yearofkindness

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