A chain of profound events I witnessed last night on a prosperous street in Santa Barbara made me think it must have been part of another Merry Pranksters video, but there were no hidden cameras around and no ulterior motives for these spontaneous acts of kindness.
Homeless people were on my mind at 7:00 p.m. as I sat down on a sidewalk bench on State Street watching people carrying home leftovers from restaurants (A lady on the corner had asked for my little box of linguine di le mare after I left Aldo’s five minutes earlier.)
Into my view came an older man with a gray beard slowly pushing a suitcase with a sign on it: ‘House Less – Anything Helps – Thank You!’ I smiled at him and said, “Hello… How are you?”
He sat down on the other bench and flipped over his panhandling sign to reveal a wonderfully vibrant graphic he’d done recently, which was signed with his name, Steve E. Knoke. I asked if he sold the pictures for money, because I would eagerly trade $20 for one.
He sounded sober, thoughtful, and optimistic when I asked him about his life: He said he was a veteran of the Air Force with a “nervous disorder”, and just turned 62, which meant he needed to finish applying for retirement benefits. He sometimes visited a shelter but mostly slept in a sleeping bag outdoors. He had lived all over the country–including homeless in frigid Minnesota, where he realized “it was always summer in Santa Barbara”, so decided to make his way here.
Right after he told my friend and I about how people can sometimes be cruel toward the homeless, a young woman approached him. She leaned down and handed him a carry-out plate holding several slices of pizza, asking, “Would you like some dinner?”
Surprised, he shyly took the food, expressed his thanks, and soon turned to ask us asking if we wanted some.
I yelled toward her as she walked southward, “That was so nice of you!” (I immediately wish I’d gotten a photo of the kind act.)
As we continued chatting, and he enjoyed his meal, a voice boomed out from the dim light, “Steve-O!” A fellow homeless man, greeted Steve with gusto. The jolly black man said he was liquored-up and doing well. Steve-O immediately offered to share his pizza. The guy was grateful, and then moved on down the sidewalk.
Suddenly, like an angel swooping in, the young lady appeared again, this time, coming from the north. She must have observed his generosity because she said, “That was a nice thing you did,” and handed him a new plate of food–this time bigger and made to order.
He was rather dumbfounded by this repeated gesture of kindness, but managed to give heartfelt thanks to the girl, who was dressed in a flowing green top and white shorts. She smiled at me, knowingly, as she strolled with satisfaction back up the sidewalk.
As quickly as she left, a tall, young white man walked up and greeted Steve by name, and asked if he could have some of his food. Steve’s weather-worn hands unwrapped the foil top to reveal his new bounty.
“Can I have two?” the youth asked.
“Go ahead,” said Steve, as he lifted up the plate, grinning because of his good fortune.
THAT’s when I started looking around for the cameras.
I started thinking about how none of these connected acts of kindness would have flowed—one-from-another— if I had not said hello to Mr. Knoke and opened up our lovely conversation on the benches.
We urged him to seek a client advocate at the Veterans Hospital, where he had been treated recently for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), so he could start receiving his retirement payments. Before we left, we asked if we could take his picture and tell his story on the internet.
After witnessing what a generous soul he was, beneath his weary exterior, I doubled my donation for the picture, and walked away with his sign that had this drawing on the back.
“This will really help me out,” he said as we bid him goodbye and turned to walk back down the sidewalk which had yielded so much abundance on that chilly night.
MULTIPLY the Good–Click to Inspire Others!…