On kindness

by Kim on November 25, 2013 · 24 comments

Europe by train: day 9. Paris, France to Brussels, Belgium.

Yesterday was our last day in Paris. The highlight was meeting Thomas, an exchange student that lived some years ago in the small town where Brian’s extended family lives. We connected over Facebook and met him for lunch at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter.

Thomas is a traveler and we are travelers so we talked about where we’ve been and where we love the most. We all shared a common adoration of Nepal. Thomas has volunteered there and Brian and I have trekked there. Over lunch we talked fondly of the kind Nepalese people who offered us food and tea and opened up their homes to us.

When lunch was over Thomas paid the bill. We tried to stop him but he was at the register before we knew it. When I attempted to hand him money he said, “No, you are guests in my city.” I continued to protest and Thomas said, “If the people of Nepal can be so kind and welcoming why can’t I?”

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Walking away from lunch, Brian and I began talking about all of the kindness we have been shown by complete strangers over this year and a half of traveling. Before we left we had genuine concerns about our safety. You turn on the television or open the paper and you’d think that humans only do despicable things. But we’ve been out here for a long time now and are regularly overwhelmed by the goodness of others, whether in Paris or Santiago or Nepal or Ecuador or India.

Speaking of, we have money to give away. In fact, I recently received an email from an amazing woman who read about the best gift we’ve ever been given and asked if she and her husband could donate to the Yellow Envelope Fund. Brian and I couldn’t think of a reason why not, so now we have even more money to give away.

There are a lot of people begging for money in Paris. I suppose it’s no different than anywhere else. It’s a really hard thing to swallow when you think about it. I mean, these people need something and I have it, yet when they ask me for it I say no.

I started thinking about it yesterday afternoon as we walked by a woman, middle-aged, who’d been propped against the same street lamp the whole time we’d been in Paris. Across the sidewalk from her was a makeshift bed in an unused doorway. I guess that was her home.

I was sympathizing a bit because I’d been thinking earlier about how there are all these apartments in Paris, many with empty beds, and yet Brian and I spent hours hunting down a place to sleep that we could afford. Then I thought about how terrible it must be to be the woman by the street lamp, knowing that most of the people walking by had empty rooms and cupboards full of food but they wouldn’t share any of it with you.

So Brian and I decided that today we would just say yes to whatever anyone asked of us. If they asked for money we would give it. If they asked for shoes or a blanket or a sandwich we would give it. As long as we could afford it we would give it. Brian was not a fan of this idea because he hates begging, so I sort of steamrolled him into it.

We had five trains to catch today. We boarded our first train around 9:30 a.m. Soon after a man got on, a young guy with a goatee and a black leather coat. To be honest he didn’t really look like he needed money. Nonetheless, he asked Brian for some change. Brian pointed to me because I had the Yellow Envelope money in my pocket. I handed the man 10 euro. He said thank you. I said you’re welcome. Then he turned his attention back to Brian, put his money cup in Brian’s face and jingled it, asking for more. It was an asshole move, really, considering I’d just given him 10 euro.

Brian turned red with anger. I thought he might punch the guy or at least knock the cup out of his hand. But Brian isn’t the type to do that. It reminded me of a time once in Portland when a homeless guy asked us for food. We’d popped into a deli and bought him a sandwich. But then when we gave it to him and he’d said, “It better be vegan.” Brian turned red with anger then too.

The guy on the train walked away and Brian shot me a look. But before he could say anything I said, “Hey, listen, who are we to judge? It’s not about us. It’s not even our money.”

***

Life is weird— especially when you travel for a living. You carry your body, which carries your soul, through different cities in different countries in different cultures all over the world. It’s hard. It’s much more difficult than you would believe. But the blessing of it is that you get an opportunity to cross paths with so many different people.

I saw this print once by Storypeople and it said, “One day, I decided to help wherever I could, and it was almost like magic because I was exactly what the world needed wherever I went.”

In my best moments, I try to think of our traveling life this way. I try to believe that everyone in front of us is there because they’re supposed to be and not just because they are.

When you do it right, life can be about making things better just by the blessing of your presence. Kind of like how the people of Nepal affected Thomas. And then Thomas affected us. And maybe we got to do the same thing for the guy in the leather coat. Maybe not. We’ll never know for sure. But knowing is not the point.

France photos OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Life On Fire ebook coverI wrote a book about how to live your dreams. You can buy it on Amazon for $8.99.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Carmel November 25, 2013 at 3:02 am

I have that wallpaper right now too!

You raise some interesting points. I don’t have a policy on giving money out to beggars one way or the other – sometimes I do give, sometimes I don’t. I understand that people stand firm to a no-giving policy and I understand why – in many cases it only worsens the problem. I still give sometimes, maybe for my own feelings of guilt or need to feel like a hero if you choose to frame it that way, but when I do, I don’t judge. I remember that my own family received a lot of charity in the past and there was little separating us from the streets other than the kindness of people around us – sometimes not even people we knew. We’ve also been on the other end and only found out years and years later how kind actions affected another person’s life. But it really isn’t about the result, it’s about the action.
Carmel recently posted..REDEFINING EXPECTATIONS

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Kim November 26, 2013 at 12:31 am

I agree with you. I remember being very broke (in Americorps) and how a few dollars really made my day– who knows what I spent it on? I was young so probably beer! But the point was that it felt like such a relief to have even five dollars that I wasn’t expecting to have. It matters.

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Emily November 25, 2013 at 5:45 am

I also try to view things the way you do: that people are meant to be there to cross paths with you. I think that is why travelling is so great. It takes you from your habits and creature comforts, but gives you life lessons and an understanding of the world that you may not otherwise encounter. So many times in past travels I am left feeling humbled and with a warm heart; those stories just don’t sell in the news!
Emily recently posted..On those we’ll miss

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Kim November 26, 2013 at 12:32 am

It’s so sad those stories don’t sell in the news.

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Hogga November 25, 2013 at 7:30 am

love train travel
Hogga recently posted..Why Everyone Should Go Eat a Pecker

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Kim November 26, 2013 at 12:32 am

Yep, best way to go!

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Rhonda November 25, 2013 at 7:51 am

Begging… always such a quandry, and I have never yet figured out how exactly I feel about whether or not to give money. I think your idea of just saying yes is fantastic, but too bad the asshole had to ruin the good feeling, so I feel for Brian too. One of those topics to which there is no easy answer.
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Kim November 26, 2013 at 12:33 am

No easy answer. But I really don’t think that giving $5 to someone begging is going to destroy the world. I think sometimes we’re so caught up about doing the wrong thing that we don’t do the right thing when it’s right in front of our nose.

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Rhonda November 26, 2013 at 9:41 am

An excellent point!
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Michele C. November 25, 2013 at 8:36 am

What a thought provoking post! I’m proud of you for giving the “say yes to whatever is asked” approach a try. We could all probably stand to do that a bit more in our lives, even if we get burned from time to time.

I think it takes work to stay in that space of compassion – but the more we do it, the easier it comes. I recall a friend who had his backback stolen from under the table he was staffing at an event at the university. It had his computer and money from a recently cashed paycheck in it. I was horrified and angry and frustrated. His response? “They must have needed it more than I do” – said with complete and total sincerity. He totally floored me. There was nothing he could do to get his money or belongings back…but he could control his response to the situation. I was indignant. He was compassionate. I’m not sure either of us were right, but ever since I’ve been in awe of the lens through which he viewed that situation. It’s a good reminder for me, when I too get burned by something/someone, to back up and look at it from a place of compassion…it often removes some of the sting.

Keep on keeping on! Glad you’re still working on the Yellow Envelope project…and that your fund is growing! Who would have thought? :) woohoo!

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Kim November 26, 2013 at 12:34 am

Yep, it’s growing! I couldn’t believe it…

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Peter Korchnak @ Where Is Your Toothbrush? November 25, 2013 at 8:55 am

Having worked in Portland’s social services sector, I agree there are more effective methods to help people in need than giving them money on the street. Sometimes it actually does more harm than good, is my understanding. I, too, decline such requests, in the U.S. and elsewhere. I still don’t like it.

I hear you on enjoying hospitality while traveling. My Serbian friends acted the same way in Belgrade as Thomas did in Paris, and I know I act the same way in Košice or Portland. Those instances offset and feature in my memory way more brightly than all the instances when I feel locals see me as a giant dollar sign.

Saying yes…isn’t that the premise of that silly Jim Carrey movie?
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Kim November 26, 2013 at 12:35 am

Yes, it’s also the premise of a book called, “Yes Man” which I think the movie was based on. Never saw the movie… and now I never will since I know Jim Carrey stars in it ;)

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HP November 25, 2013 at 10:05 am

Tough one. While believing in a helping hand, I see to much of it being organized by unscrupulous groups around my travels here in Europa. Which then spoils it for the ones who really need it.
HP recently posted..GASTRONOMADES

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Kim November 26, 2013 at 12:35 am

Yes, I think that does spoil it for the ones who need it. It’s a tough call always.

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Patti November 25, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Yes, we saw a lot of begging in Paris and often times we wondered if they were in need, or was it a scam because sadly there is a lot of scamming as well. When we were at Sacre Coeur it was cold and snowing and there 2 women – 1 elderly, 1 young – sitting outside asking for money. I didn’t stop on our way into the cathedral and I didn’t stop on our way out, but then I hesitated. There was just something about them that touched my heart and I put a few coins in each of their cups. Sometimes you just have to go with your heart.
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Kim November 26, 2013 at 12:42 am

Yeah, I don’t think you’ll ever know if it is a scam or not. Just do what you feel you should do.

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Jessica J. Hill November 26, 2013 at 6:23 am

Oh, sometimes it can be so disheartening to give, but you have to keep doing so if you feel it in your heart. There are some out there who really need it, and who will gratefully accept anything you can offer. Breaks my heart to hear the ungrateful ones.

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Kim November 27, 2013 at 12:45 am

Yes, there’s all types of people… begging and otherwise I suppose.

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Marissa November 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

Wow what an interesting story! The situation you explained about the 10 euro sounds exactly how my boyfriend and I would react – I’d be the calm, cool-headed philanthropist, and he’d be the realist who shakes his head in anger. Charity and kindness to strangers can be an interesting thing, very dynamic depending on who is giving and who is receiving. But cheers to you for your warmth and compassion to people – it’s admirable, Kim.

Take care
Marissa

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Kim November 27, 2013 at 12:48 am

Ha, no one has ever described me as cool-headed before! But I suppose in that situation I actually was.

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Swaps November 27, 2013 at 1:50 am

Beautiful post! I have seen a lot of begging on roads in my home country India and don’t really like giving money to beggers coz of the same concerns that others have already mentioned. But sometimes you just have to go with what your heart tells you to do at that very moment!

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Kim November 28, 2013 at 12:24 am

I’ve been to India too and that begging is definitely *different* and perhaps even more corrupt than begging in Europe? Maybe I’m wrong?

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