Friday, January 1, 2010

Legacy of the Sandwich Man

Over the past few years, I have given my writing students a topic that asked who has changed their lives and whose lives they have changed in some way. It is often a subject that we think requires some great act or one that results in some momentous change. This is seldom the case.

My local newspaper had such a story which needs to be shared. Although I wrote the topic prior to this, the story illustrates what I had in mind.

The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), November 22, 2009, Section O, page 2. “The legacy of the sandwich man” by Margie Boule.

I paraphrase this powerful piece without violating the privacy of the family involved.

A middle-aged man (I’ll call him Sam.) died suddenly, and the family published his obituary. Another man happened to see the photo and recognized the deceased. He visited the chapel where the viewing was held, but entered when the family had left. As this man appeared to be homeless, the lady (I’ll call her Ellen.) overseeing the visitation followed the man into the chapel fearing he would steal something. When Ellen asked if she could help the man, the homeless gentleman turned, and she could see tears in his eyes as he asked if this was truly the sandwich man.

The homeless man told Ellen of standing outside a building Sam passed daily. Although the man asked for money, at some point Sam decided to offer him a sandwich instead. A few times a week Sam would walk by, handing the homeless man the sandwich and never preaching to him about his situation. The man told Ellen that he shared the sandwich with others.

The funeral was held and hundreds of people attended, giving testimony of Sam’s other good deeds of helping the elderly, loaning money, supporting co-workers, etc. His family had no idea these acts of kindness had occurred.

The homeless many did not attend the funeral, but his story haunted Ellen and the stories of Sam’s kindness at the funeral made her wish she had known him. A week later, Ellen bought an extra sandwich and headed to the building where the homeless man was stationed. She handed him the sandwich; he smiled and said thank you. She continued this kindness until her company moved her to another suburb.

She started telling Sam’s story to her family and friends. She urged them to pass out sandwiches and many do. One of her friends has a bag of socks in her car and gives them out. Ellen has given her umbrella to a mother and child walking in the rain. She has purchased extra fast food to share with those more in need.

Ellen stated that Sam has changed her, and she now looks for ways to help others. The legacy of the Sandwich Man lives on in Ellen and her friends.

In this New Year, you can be the Sandwich Man. I challenge you to do acts of kindness every day and not to judge those people in need. Do not just say thank you or open a door; stretch yourself to do better than that. Make a list of what you can do; add to the list often; check off what you are doing. As you practice more random acts of kindness, more ideas will come to mind for your list.

To start your ideas, try these:

1. Carry protein bars in your car or your purse and hand them out to people on the road or sidewalk who need help.

2. Most cities have a location where you can purchase food certificates for the homeless. Buy those and pass those out. Be sure that you are in the area where the restaurant is as most homeless have difficulty getting around.

3. For the holidays and winter, purchase hats, scarves, gloves, and coats of all sizes for children. These can be dropped off at various shelters or schools.

4. In August gather school supplies you find on sale at various stories. Donate them to your local school. They will use them for those who cannot afford the items.

5. Take your old clothing to a Women’s shelter for the women and their children.

6. Take your used blankets and pillows to shelters.

7. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.

8. Help an elderly neighbor with cooking, cleaning, or doing errands.

9. Take food regularly to your local food bank.

10. If you are behind a person in the grocery line who is carefully counting their pennies or returning an item, let them know it is their lucky day and you are giving your change to help or buying the item for them.

11. Greet everyone on the street even if they do not return the gesture. Be sincere and ask how they are or wish them a good day. SMILE

12. Carry items in your car that you no longer really need. Everyone has more coats or gloves than we really need. Did you make cookies…hand out bags of them. Share what you have; hand them out to those who need them. You are better off than half of the population!

So how does this fit writing your childhood memories and family stories?

Think back on who gave you a little boost when you may have needed it. Maybe it was only verbal encouragement or they let you off the hook in a situation. Write about the people who changed your life, even in small ways. Write about how you have helped others in the past and now that you will continue the legacy of the Sandwich Man.

BUT more importantly, for this New Year…

As we age we either get sweeter or become grouchier. Which way are you leaning?

Vow to make the future better for everyone. Give of yourself so that you can receive; help those less off than you; practice random acts of kindness. In doing all this your days will be happy. You never know how much you touch another person and what a difference you make in their lives. Live as if there is nothing more important….because there isn’t!

May the New Year bring kindness and generosity to every heart. May it start with each of us!

1 Jan 2010