One very cold evening in February I passed a homeless man begging on the steps outside the Central Station in Copenhagen. At first I just registered his presence but hurried past him vaguely considering his thin worn out clothes and the fact that his hands were gloveless at a time when everyone else was wearing at least one pair of gloves.
I made a pit stop at the 7-eleven to buy a bus ticket and as I walked past the coffee maker, I got to think about the cold, homeless man outside on the street. At first, I considered if it was a good idea at all. How did he take his coffee? What if he didn’t like coffee at all? What if he thought I was condescending to make the decision for him? What if he thought I was condescending to buy him anything at all and not just give him the coffee? And, frankly, I was afraid of him. I was afraid of him for no other reason than the fact that he was a homeless guy.
But then I pulled myself together and decided not to be so self-absorbed. It was oh so very cold outside and the man needed something to keep him warm. As it happened, I was in a place – financially and physically – where I could at least solve the problem for a little while. So I decided to buy a black coffee and, in an inspired moment, grabbed a handfull of sugar packs as well.
I went outside again and politely informed the guy, that I had bought him a coffee. And he smiled! He was so greatful that I almost blushed with shame for my thoughts just minutes earlier. All of a sudden he wasn’t scary anymore. He was just a guy. I smiled back and shyly handed him the sugar with a little excuse about the lack of milk. I don’t know how he prefers his coffee but as it turned out that day, he was very happy with the black coffee with sugar. I left him feeling slightly embarressed but happy that I at least acted on my whim.
My point is that I did so little and it made a big difference for him. It was not the coffee – it was the act of giving him the coffee. I actually saw him and acknowledged him as a person. And in return I got much more grattitude than I deserved.