From the Desk of the Editor
It's a phrase that you've heard before, at least on television and, no doubt, at your own home when you were young. The scene: a kitchen table, set for breakfast or dinner. A small, petulant child with a screwed-up frown on his face, shaking his head at the offending plate in front of him. It's a plate piled his with broccoli, or a bowl filled to the brim with oatmeal and raisins. A pleading mother or a desperate father cajoles, bellows, or pleads with him to just try it. No matter what temptation or threat they offer, the food will remain "yucky" and therefore untouched. Not even that tried and true command will work - "Finish it! There are starving children in Africa who'd like that food!" For all that dramatic guilt-inducing tone will just get you the expected response: "Then why don't you send it to THEM?"
Hearing that phrase, I always used to think - "Yeah, why DON'T we send it to them?" Seriously - why do we waste so much food that could be going to others out there? Come to think of it, why do we waste so many little, trivial things in our own lives that could make such a difference in the lives of others? With so many non-profit organizations out there - churches, Red Cross chapters, food kitchens, Habitat for Humanity - how are there still starving and homeless people out there, even sitting just around the corner from our very law school? In writing this letter, I like to think that, as future civil servants, scholars, and justice practitioners, we could start to make a small change in our community, even starting today.
No doubt there are some who read this article and think, "Jeeze, another bleeding heart in print..." How ineffective, how self-indulgent. If there are people hungry and homeless out there, they probably did something to deserve it, right? Or alternatively, there's so much heartache and tragedy out there - if you start caring about something small, then you'd have to care about EVERYTHING, right?
I know one such doubter out there, a reader of Nota Bene - we'll call him John. I would not call John a bleeding heart. At all. At best, he makes jokes about the government; at worst, he complains about stupid politicians while "harrumph"-ing in front of the nightly news. I know for a fact, though, that this same man is an advocate for the homeless. In his own way.
You see, he works downtown, in an area of the city that's not that great. In the winter, a homeless guy sits outside the building, right next to the entrance of a McDonalds. He's dirty and he sits on the grate that spits out the hot, stale air from the Metro station below. Everyone who walks by the McDonalds, he asks them for change. Most people pass him by, eyes low to the ground or fixed on their cell phones. They steel themselves against his request for relief, or they just walk right past him, as if they don't - or can't - see him.
Now, I don't know this homeless guy. He could be a drug dealer, a user, an escaped convict, or a criminal lying in wait. He could be mooching off innocent, naïve bypassers, too lazy to find his own job because he can get by on a handout. But I do know John. I know he goes to McDonalds for coffee and a sausage egg McMuffin (or three) in the morning. And once in a while, he buys the homeless guy a sandwich. One day, I asked him, "Why a sandwich? Why not just give him the money" He crankily replied, "'Cause he'd probably buy crack with it - he'll eat the sandwich."
And that was it. He doesn't expect anyone to congratulate him for being nice. He doesn't do it because anyone is watching. Or because he feels sorry for the guy. Or because he feels guilty about an unfair society that discards people like so much human garbage instead of helping them out. Or because it gives him the warm and fuzzies even. No, he buys the guy a sandwich because, well, he's going to Mickey D's anyways and the guy looks like he needs a sandwich. Because it's just a dollar. And that dollar can go a long way. It goes to show that you don't have to hike halfway around the world to make a positive change in it. And you don't have to be a billionaire to be a good person.
Take a dollar today and use it in your own life, for your own charitable purpose. Give it to that nice, but harried waitress who looks like she's been up all night. If your friend gchats you, saying he's been up all night writing her memo - go buy him a Diet Coke and deliver it to him in the library. When you could throw away the last two slices of pizza, wrap it up and give it to the homeless guy outside. Find the simple acts of kindness that reveal themselves every day around Foggy Bottom and bring them to light.
Mahatma Gandhi - a lawyer - once said that "you must be the change you wish to see in the world." Take today and find that change - or a simple dollar bill.