By Shannon M. Smith
While in college in 1994, I took the bus from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire down to Long Island, New York, to visit my boyfriend’s family. He was returning at a later date, so I headed back north on the bus by myself. There was a stop near Boston where I needed to change buses.
However, as is typical to the Northeast in winter, my bus was late due to inclement weather, so I missed my connection. It was now mid-morning, and the next bus was not until 9:00 p.m. I would have to sit nearly all day in the bus station.
That was not so bad in itself; however, I rarely to never carry cash and my ATM card was not working. My parents live in Maine, and all my friends were at the college. There literally was no one I could call to pick me up or to just visit with. It was a book and me, until nightfall.
By late afternoon the bus station was frigid, and I had eaten only two Tootsie Rolls that had cost ten cents each.
At one point in the afternoon, a homeless man approached me, asking for money. He had been hanging around the station for few minutes approaching others. The other people in the bus station were all staring at me (or at least I assumed they were).
Not thrilled, I took the two candy wrappers and a nickel out of my pocket and told him that was the remains of my breakfast, lunch and dinner, but if he wanted, he could have the nickel. He didn’t take the money, and with a gruff “That’s OK,” he waved me off and walked away.
About ten minutes later, he returned with a hamburger and soda from McDonald’s. Here I was, sitting in a bus station with a homeless man buying me dinner! Of course, I accepted it. Then we sat together for a few hours while I waited for my bus. I read his journal of stories he’d been working on, and he asked questions about my time in college.
He was definitely a strange character — he was elderly and had been homeless for many years. He showed signs of mental illness, through talking about alien abductions, and ongoing government relocations. However, he had a great sense of humor and was fascinating to talk to.
Despite being at an Ivy League college, my parents both worked and I was heavily dependent on financial aid, plus working 20 hours a week throughout school. Yet, I was amazed at what generosity this man could show when, despite my immediate lack of cash, I was still in a financially better state than he was.
Though I can’t return the favor directly to that gentleman, I make sure to offer something to homeless people as often as I can.