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“Hunger also changes the world when eating can’t be a habit, then neither can seeing.” - Maxine Hong Kingston

It had been a tough year and it didn’t appear to be getting any easier. She wasn’t working and he wasn’t working much. They had two teenage children to feed and bills to pay. The car needed repairs again. It seemed every time they took one step forward they were knocked two back. Still, they hoped things would get better in time. He had health problems and so did she, and so did one of the children. But they continued to believe tomorrow could be better. Next week, next month, even next year if that’s how long it took, things would get better.

In their small town, they would often see a man who wandered the streets in shabby clothes. They had spoken to him many times and their hearts went out to his sad condition.

In the evening the man would often come home, having seen the wanderer, and think about how lucky they were to have a roof over their heads, some food to eat, and hope to go on. He wondered how the man survived out there day after day after day with nothing better to look forward to. As his wife began preparing dinner, though they often had barely enough, she would prepare something for the man in the streets and her husband would go back out in the cold winter evening and look for him again to give him the food.

These are the people of compassion who know one person can make a big difference in another’s life by performing small acts of kindness. They are the ones who give even when they themselves have unmet needs. They are the ones who remember the dark and fearful nights when they or someone they knew went to bed hungry, the terrifying uncertainty of times when there was no work. They remember the kindness of others extended to them as they walked through their own bleak times.

Those who have never experienced need sometimes feel little compassion and struggle to understand why others give willingly even out of their own need. To them, giving appears foolish. But those who have experienced need know poverty can show up at their own doorstep any time, ushered in by sudden job loss, serious illness, divorce or some other sudden tragedy you never saw coming.

Whether your wealth is invested in the stock market, your retirement plan, your career, your education or your beauty, it can all be gone in the blink of an eye. We should all strive to remember every day that no one is immune and ours could be the next doorstep on which need arrives.

The couple’s hope was eventually rewarded, they both found jobs and life is much easier for them now than before. But they never forgot the man in the street. They still take him food whenever they see him in town.

“Selfishness leads to despair. True joy comes to us, not from what we own, but from what we are able to give to others.” – The Power of Thanksgiving

Excerpted from Sidewalk Flowers, Vol. 1

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