Stories of Kindness from Around the World

Virtue Is The Only Shelter We Have In This World

--by twocents, posted Oct 19, 2009

The first thing I noticed about him was his intensity.  When other people got up to take a break, he sat with such a sincere, unassumingly deep focus that I was immediately impressed.

The next time I noticed him was few days later.  He happened to be in front of me as we walked down to the dining hall, and I caught a glimpse of his sweatshirt.  The cuff of his sleeve was tattered and dirty, with a small hole in it.  I instantly knew that he had no money, and that his intense search for truth had rendered a simplicity and faith that made the lack of funds not as worrisome as it would be for the rest of us.  Still, I thought that if there was ever anyone to help, it would be someone of this type of intensity, where the his answers might reap dividends to help many others as he deepened his quest.  I resolved that I was going to help him, but I didn't know how yet.

You're not supposed to notice other people at these meditation retreats so you can focus more on noticing yourself, but old habits die hard :-) and I tend to be a bad student of good advice.

After many days of absolute silence, I got my chance to speak to him.  One of the first things he did was offer me a gift of a book :-)  I later learned that he knew the city he needed to go to next, but had no ride there.  It was in my general direction, so I offered him a ride.

In the car, I got to listen to his story.  He was a restless kid in high school, unhappy with pettiness he experienced and the apparent shallowness of the life around him.  Working at a coffee shop, he managed to save enough money to go to S. America, where he found a native healer and lived with him in the jungle for some time.  Discovering that the healer didn't have the answers to the questions that troubled him, he returned to the US.  He entered into a period of disillusionment that lead him to leave home as a young 19 year old.  He headed west on a Greyhound, buying a ticket for as far as his $80 savings could take him.  Arriving penniless and without knowing a soul where he was let off, his story really began to get interesting.

Within minutes of his arrival, he met a good hearted man who passed on $20 without being asked for it--enough for a meal and another bus ticket.  His journey continued westward, each time seemingly encountering kind strangers who assisted selflessly with a few dollars here and there.  Sometimes a sandwich, or a place to stay, a ride, a bit of advice, or even a kind word sustained him and gave him the strength for the next steps.  There were some tough times too-- nights without a place to sleep except under the stars, days without meals but full of a deeper hunger that went beyond the stomach.  There were times of disillusionment, like when he was kicked out of a church where he felt called to pray, all because his clothes were a bit dirty.  He was relatively clean shaven and never had the appearance of a bum, but rumpled and dirty clothing from several days without shelter is hard to hide.

Moments like these lead to a deeper disillusionment, that at times had sparked a few experiments with drugs.  This was the first time my instinct to help him had been questioned, so I probed further.  After getting kicked out of the church, he sat on a bench outside and smoked some marijuana that a stranger had given him.  Somewhere in the 'high' of that low, he realized that drugs were not the answer.  Right then, he dug a hole on church property and buried his small marijuana pipe along with the remaining weed he had.

Still, my doubts had sprung up, damaging that original instinct of goodness from a few days earlier.  I probed harder on how he processed the encounters with so many strangers who would often give him money, and he said that he would never ask for anything-- that these people wanted to give him money and so he accepted.  That sounded ok, but I kept wondering if he would use money for drugs in another tough situation.  Or that maybe someone else would help him with money, and I should keep mine for myself.  I decided that I needed to test him before helping him.  I just didn't know how yet.

His story continued, and he somehow ended up in west Texas, totally coincidentally at the home of a friend's father after leaving Delaware weeks (maybe months) earlier.  It was one of the few opportunities he had to stay in touch with his mother back home.  She was on the tail-end of a divorce with his father, and had lost her factory job, but was making ends meet by working a carwash and waitressing.  On the call home, he learned that his grandmother's health was shaky, and was flooded with the love and affection he felt for his family's kindness.  Relating the story to his host, along with his intense feeling of wanting to help, the friend's father paid for his journey back to Delaware, just as he himself realized that he never needed to leave in the first place.

His conclusion after floating on the kindness of strangers on a 2000 mile journey was that you can't run away from your problems, because you'll always end up right back where you started :-)

Back at home, he took odd jobs to help support his mother.  He stayed for perhaps a year and spent spare moments caring for his grandmother until her death.  The questions and hunger remained, and had lead him to Buddhist teachings during that year.  His mother seemed to share many of his questions, and they too deepened their connection even more in the time that he was back.  After his grandmother's death, and with his mother's blessings, he decided to explore some of what he had read in books a bit further.  He left home again to attend his first 10-day silent meditation retreat in Massachusetts.  That struck a cord and we went to another as soon as he could.  After several more retreats in different parts of the country, he ended up volunteering at a monastery for weeks or maybe months on end.  He hadn't felt necessarily called to be a monk and felt some internal difference at that monastery, so he left.

And so there he was, after eight 10-day silent meditation retreats and some time at a monastery, in my car heading north.  I let him use my cell phone to call his mother.  He was sensitive about using my minutes even though they were free on the weekend, but in the small update and few words they shared, I could feel such tremendous love and mutual affection.  She was still scraping by with her two low-paying jobs, but asked him if he needed money.  He had $3 in his wallet, but he declined, feeling that she would need the cash more than him.  He just wanted to let her know that he was doing ok, and that he loved her.

There was a certain monk living in the city where we were headed that he had read about.  I happened to know this monk, and offered to introduce him, which he happily accept.  First we had to eat though, and that would give me my first chance to test him.  I took him to a rather noisy sandwich place with a few friends, knowing full well that he only had $3 in his pocket.  He asked if they took ATM cards, and they did, so he ordered the cheapest sandwich on the menu at $5.75.  I found out that his mother had told him that there he had $9 in his bank account, and I had just lead him into spending 2/3rd of it on a meal.  Still, I didn't mind this particular test even though it left me short of truly understanding what he felt.

We discoverd that neither of us had a proclivity for a noisy cafe after 10 days of silence, and decide to eat our sandwiches elsewhere.  Finishing our meals, I took him to the monastery to meet the monk I had promised to introduce him to.  The monk was busy, but graciously gave us some of his precious time, deeply touching my guest.

Somehow, I didnt realize that the place he needed to go was another 2 hr drive from where we were.  I told him that I couldn't take him that far, but that I could take him to the local train station where he could ride back to the airport and then catch a bus to the town he was headed.  The train ride would be about $3 and the bus ticket would be at least $10.  As we're driving to the train station, he asks if he can use my cell phone again.  He calls his mother, and asks if she can put $20 into his bank account a few moments before we park.  That's when I realized how I would test him.

We find our parking spot, and I open my trunk to get his bag out.  It was an unseasonably warm April afternoon, and I reach past his bag to my own to pull out  a very nice sweater.

"Many years ago on my birthday, my sister gave me this sweater.  The label has her initials embroidered into it,", I say, showing him the label.

"During my own journeys, my family has been an incredible support to me.  I couldn't have done much without them, particularly my sister who has taken care of so many small things that might have been impossible from overseas."

He nods and smiles.

"To me, this sweater is a symbol of that love and support that has carried me so far.  As you continue on your journey, I felt it might be a wonderful reminder to you in tough times.  But its a warm day, so I want to offer you a choice.  You can either have this sweater, which is is a symbol of love and protection, or you can have 20 dollars," I say as I pull out a bill.

"Which would you like?" I ask, knowing full well that he doesn't have the money for his next steps, and that his mother may or may not be able to put money into his account in time for tonight's bus to his destination.

"I'd be honored to carry the sweater," came his reply.

"Are you sure?  Its quite warm right now," I pressed.

"Are you kidding?  The sweater would mean so much.  And I'm always a little cold at night.  I definitely choose the sweater."

How many of us would make the same decision in his situation?

I had just been engaged a few weeks earlier, and some uncle had given me a $100 bill.  I put away the $20 bill and pull the $100 out of my wallet.

"I wanted to test your faith and your trust in the path you've chosen.  But you've reminded me that virtue is the only shelter we have in the world.  So I want to give you the sweater, and some money too."

He smiled and welled up just a little bit.  We unloaded his bag, and I got back in my car.  He walked up to my window and said Thank You.

We exchanged some parting words and then I drove off.

I often wondered what happened to him.  Until a few weeks ago.  I got an email, and after more travels, and more meditation retreats, he found a monastery that fit with him, and has become a monk-in-training.  He even sent a photo of himself with shaven head and robes.  That made me feel like the answers he finds on his own path will lighten the suffering for so many others.

I'm not rich in the traditional sense, but everytime I feel poor, I think about the best $100 I ever spent.  And I smile knowing that my sister's gift of a sweater on my birthday years ago ended up in the best possible place.

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Readers Comments

gipsysoul wrote: I was touched by this part of the story especially: "i resolved that i was going to help him, but i didn't know how yet. " there is something so beautiful about those impulses or decisions that do not come from strategy or principles. But come from paying attention to another closely enough that we can feel what wants to happen through us. I love that you noticed something about him that others could have easily missed. I also loved that you allowed deeper connection and understanding to reveal what might be the best way to help. I am curious though about your desire to test him, and where it came from.
mati wrote: Awesome
Rajruhani wrote: What a wonderful story. How we can change destiny just by small acts of greatness. Many thanks for sharing so beautifully.
Mark` wrote: Wow!
sethi wrote: Thank you for sharing your experience.
dreamer22 wrote: Great story ;-)
unknown wrote: Virtue, Integrity goes beyond appearances, hardships ... recollect how a friend never wanted to come home bec'z I keep it dirty, but I had a few cobwebs, a mother and so many baby spiders, like around 10, high up in the ceiling ... Their family appealed to me, so I preferred a dirty house so to say ... feel so comforted reading your message now :) twocents, I am not sure if I might have made a clever question like you but definitely I share your warm feelings of giving USD 100 with the much loved sweater. Actually both of you have contributed to global kindness. Thanks :)
Bluebell wrote: Twocents, I new you were a beautiful soul I just didnt' realize that you were a very, very old soul. Only a very old soul with a lot of experience on human nature would come up with such a beautiful life changing challenge to another old soul. All the best. Love and Light and a Thousand Smiles, Bluebell
madeusmile wrote: What a beautful story! Isn't it funny how God puts us in the places we need to be? Your experience was very heartwarming. Thank you for sharing!
iris wrote: Thank you so much for the lovely story..May God bless you

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