I enjoy a small coffee (plenty of cream, no sugar) at a table by a window. There’s a Starbucks across the street, but I like Dunkin’s coffee better, and, more importantly, Dunkin’s Internet connection is far superior (which is not saying much, but still). While sipping the thick, creamy beverage I read “A Wanted Man” (Jack Reacher #17) by Lee Child, which, as usual for Reacher, is going much too fast. In the book, Reacher muses, while driving, about numbers. The number three, in particular. “Take any three consecutive numbers, the largest divisible by three, and add them up, and then add the digits of the result, again and again if necessary , until just a single number is left. That number will be six.”
Obviously I have no choice but to stop reading, switch over from the Kindle app on my Nexus 7 to the Calculator app, and check this out. Amazingly, it works. Every single time. Pretty cool.
While marveling over this mathematical quirk, I notice the homeless man standing in the sidewalk across the street. Filthy. Mumbling to himself. Passers by swing wide to avoid him. The homeless man crosses the street and walks into the Dunkin’ Donuts. Sits at a table. Just sits there. Blank eyes looking forward, at nothing. Still mumbling. Hair tangled and stuck in place by its filth. The skin on his face like old, yellowed paper. His mouth partially open, revealing a handful of rotting teeth. His stench fills the restaurant.
There are a few other customers sitting in tables, and a few more in line. No one pays much attention to the homeless guy. At least it seems that way.
I go back to Reacher.
I am once again distracted, not by anything in the book this time, but by someone speaking loudly. I look in the direction of the voice. It belongs to a man that was in line when the homeless guy came in. He hands the homeless guy a Dunkin’ Donuts brown paper bag, and a paper cup. He says, “Here you go, buddy”, and walks out the door with his own paper bag and paper cup.
The expression on the homeless guy’s face reflects at first incredulity, then delight, then appreciation. His demeanor while opening the bag is not unlike that of a child opening a present on Christmas morning. The contents: ham and cheese on a french roll. He gulps it down in four large bites. After a few minutes he leaves the restaurant, sipping the contents of the paper cup. Eyes a bit less blank. No longer mumbling.
By no means are any of his long term problems any closer to being solved than they were a half hour ago. But, for a few moments at least, maybe more, he is satisfied and happy.
My feelings are complex. I’m happy that the homeless guy got a good meal. I wonder if he comes here often, sits down, and waits for someone to take pity on him and give him some food. If so, I wonder how often he is successful. I admire the man who took it upon himself to simply do the right thing, without making a big deal out of it.
But mostly I feel shame, because, upon seeing a fellow human being clearly in dire straits, my own reaction was to go back to my book.