We all grow up hearing the same old adages about giving. "It’s better to give than to receive." Or perhaps, "It’s the thought that counts." Our parents likely drill these into us at an early age. It's likely we fundamentally want to believe them. They make us feel good. They encourage us to be generous and thankful. They are moving. They are motivating. However, in reality, as lovely as these sayings sound, we will probably only truly get to experience them on their deepest, truest level a handful of times in life if we are so fortunate.
Parker is two, and although he doesn’t know or understand it yet, he has already experienced one of those rare, magic moments. Parker, along with his siblings and mom, volunteer with The Human Impact and visit those experiencing homelessness every Thursday. They are consistent and show up regularly to walk the streets with our Advocates and other volunteers. They’ve made connections and built real friendships. One of those friendships is with Byron. Byron lives in a tent under an overpass. He can usually be found sitting in a wheeled office chair along the roadside. He is often surrounded by his friends and acquaintances, holding court among those who live alongside him. He gives off the air of being someone “in the know”, someone who others look to for guidance, an authority in his own world. However, when our volunteers come along, especially Parker, Byron can’t be bothered with anything else.
You see, Byron is a grandfather at heart. He is the kind of man that simply lights up when he sees babies or toddlers. He jokes around with older kids, asking them questions about their lives and really listening to their answers. You can tell they feel seen by him, important in his eyes and that is worth something. And like any good grandfather, he is constantly slipping them treats and disregarding moms insisting that they don’t need anything else. I’ve rarely seen anyone visit Byron under the age of 18 who didn’t leave with a bag of chips, a packet of Oreos, a fresh bottle of Gatorade…all of which he pulls from a backpack at his feet, like his own Santa sack.
Parker and his siblings know what to expect from Byron. They know that he is a giver. They know at the very least, they’ll receive some kind words and a smile from him. However, on a recent visit to see him, everyone was shocked to see that Byron had outdone himself! He had somehow procured a small toddler bicycle just the perfect size for Parker. Parker loves all things with wheels - it’s kind of an obsession really - so naturally, his day was made!
Our staff and volunteers, alongside our friends from the streets, gathered to cheer Parker on as he took the bike out for an initial ride. Byron helped get him situated on the seat with his feet on the pedals and then, like any proud grandfather who knew his job of spoiling kids was accomplished, he returned to his chair to sit back and watch - feeling happy and satisfied that he had made his love known. It was possible in that moment to forget that this scene was playing out under a bridge, between two people who are not related, among a collection of used beer bottles, broken furniture, and other miscellaneous trash.
That is what makes this gift so powerful. That is what makes it matter. Parker has stuff. He has two parents, two older siblings, a permanent roof over his head, and toys he’s probably forgotten he ever owned. He did not need this bike. Byron understands all of that. He doesn’t care, and that’s what is beautiful about Byron’s generosity. This bike is not about providing Parker with something he wouldn’t have access to. It’s not about proving something, outdoing anything, or filling any obligation. It’s not about checking any boxes or impressing anyone. It’s a simple act of love from one human to another. It’s a statement that says I thought about you, even when you weren’t around. It says I have a little less because I wanted you to have a little more. It means you are important to someone. We should all be so fortunate as to receive a gift that powerful at least once in our lives. It is what giving is intended for.
True giving often hides in plain sight, or it comes from a source we’d never expect. Sometimes it comes from a man under a bridge. Sometimes it comes in the form of a used Blues Clues toddler bike. Sometimes we find that when we reflect on it, those old adages do in fact ring true.
It’s the thought that counts.
It is better to give than to receive.