northwest 23rd avenue

I Gave a Man My Sandwich on 23rd Avenue

So, I was walking down 23rd Avenue last Saturday. It was such a nice evening, after a nice dinner, and 23rd Avenue is one of the nicest avenues you can walk on—with lots of ice cream, shopping bags, music, and toasts. People celebrating the good life.

Then, there are those who are different. Those who aren’t celebrating the good life.

They’re dirty, hungry, and they don’t smell like food scents mixed with laundry detergent and cologne or perfume. They smell different.

Anyway we were walking home after our nice meal of oysters, craft beer, and incredible sandwiches. As usual, I couldn’t finish the other half of meal. It was a Cubano, a well-executed one that made you want to stuff your face, even though you knew you would pay for it later.

That evening I decided to hang onto it and take it home. But my sandwich never made it home with us, as it found a new home. A much better one.

matching couple

There was an old man on 23rd Avenue, homeless and alone. He didn’t ask for anything—he didn’t beg—he was just minding his own business. He was arranging his colorful blankets just so on the sidewalk, with a serene smile on his face. In a way, he seemed happier than the parade of privilege passing him by.

We passed him, and I stopped and turned around. I asked Mr H: “Can I give him my sandwich?”

He said: “If you want to.”

Without a word, he knew that was all I wanted as I approached the old man on 23rd. To be honest, I’ve never gone up to a homeless person and sparked a conversation. And for a moment, I didn’t know what to say.

I decided small talk was completely ridiculous and pushed my sandwich forward. “Do you want my sandwich?”

Looking back, I hate that I called it mine…my sandwich. It was a sandwich, or this sandwich.

writing blog on paper

The man struggled to speak. He stared at the container, then at my face several times, with his mouth hanging open. Finally, he said: “I’m a diabetic. There are some meats I can’t eat. I can’t—I can’t eat red meat. Is there…?”

“Just pork. This one’s okay.”

His eyes lit up as he grabbed the container and tore into it. He gazed at the sandwich like he still didn’t believe it was in his hands. He looked straight into my eyes and said: “Thank you, bless you.”

I squeezed his shoulder, my eyes filled to the brim with tears, and said…actually, I’m not sure what I said. Goodbye? Enjoy? Take care? Have a good night? Once again, the small talk seemed totally effing ridiculous. And so, we kept walking down 23rd Avenue.

I’m not expecting an award here by sharing this story. We didn’t do much, but we did something. We could feel it, and we will never forget it.

Because there has been so much crap happening in the world, it’s more important than ever to notices the opportunities to change that. We can’t change the presidential candidates or the terrorist attacks. Hell, we can’t really change ourselves.

What we can do is seize that glimmer, that moment that holds us and gives us a choice, to keep walking down the same avenue or stop and turn around.

38 thoughts on “I Gave a Man My Sandwich on 23rd Avenue

  1. Lovely gesture Britt, and stories like this are so touching because it connects people who would otherwise not be connected.

    I had a similar incident many years ago when I was younger and less mature, but with a different outcome. It taught me something important, which I’ll reveal at the end of my story.

    I left a restaurant and asked the waiter to bag a couple of rolls I had not eaten, thinking nothing should go to waste. I had seen the same homeless man in the neighborhood a few times, and my intention was to give him the bread.

    When I exited the restaurant, I saw him, sitting in the same place as an hour ago, when I walked into the restaurant. He never begged.

    I walked up to him and stared at his gaunt face, handing him the bag of dinner rolls. He opened the bag and looked inside, then closed it and handed it back to me. “No thanks,” he said.

    No thanks?

    I remember feeling indignant at first, and then I thought about it some more, and this is where the lesson came in for me.

    Every one has the freedom of choice to say “no,” even the homeless, even if we perceive they should eat, or need to eat. Maybe if I had given him money, he would’ve accepted, maybe not. Perhaps he just wasn’t hungry at that moment. And if he was, it wasn’t for my dinner rolls.

    I thought I had compassion for the man when I gave him the bread, but I really did not. I was only trying to feed my own ego, expecting gratitude in return—a way to make myself feel better.

    Today, I look at the homeless differently. Not all of them beg. Some have mental illness, others are down on luck, or in a tough situation. It may be temporary, maybe not. The homeless are multi-dimensional, and my efforts (like yours) may be small ones, but I do it from a different place — one of true compassion, and the realization that it’s ok if my gesture is not appreciated. It won’t stop me from wanting to give to the next person.

    1. Well said, Eden doll! The homeless are definitely multi-dimensional and we should respect each other’s differences.

      I think that was why I asked if he wanted my sandwich. I wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but I thought: It doesn’t hurt to ask, right? I actually ended up doing the same thing in front of our grocery store with another guy the other night. Again, I asked and waited for him to respond. He said “yes” and seemed genuinely grateful.

      I know there are times when this doesn’t work, as others have expressed in the comments. We do what we can, but it’s definitely a choice for them.

  2. I had an experience like yours in China. My husband, daughter and I all had leftovers from a restaurant dinner because we’d mistakenly each ordered something, not realizing that everything would be served family style. So we took our leftovers with us. I’m not sure why. We didn’t have any way to re-heat it in our hotel room. But I think this was the reason: as we approached our hotel, a woman came up to us and pointed at the bags of food. She didn’t speak English, but we could tell she was asking us for them, so we happily handed them over and she bowed and thanked us profusely and hurried off with her bounty. It was a heartwarming feeling. We were so glad that someone would eat it.

    Unfortunately, I’ve had more bad experiences than good with the homeless in Cincinnati. They, too, stand outside hotels and ballparks begging for money “because they’re hungry.” But on several occasions, I’ve had food I’d give them and they refuse it. They just want money. It’s a shame. Too many of them make you feel you’re being hustled. One man has a cardboard sign saying he wants money for beer. His honest approach seems to work much better. People throw dollars in his cup/hat/collection plate because at least he’s being upfront about it.

    1. Yeah, I have to say the honest approach is sometimes better. Although “beer” is a lot more tame than other things. Who knows if he was buying beer or something else, right? 😦

      Such a tricky subject, and there are plenty of comments like yours on here about people refusing food. Eden up there had a good point that they have a choice, just like anyone else. We do what we can to help out, and if that isn’t welcome, then we have to be understanding.

  3. No act of kindness however small is ever wasted and sometimes you’ll never know what an impact you have made on someone’s life. Keep going, love x x

  4. Your story brings tears to my eyes, Britt. I feel the same way when I go out of my way to take action on behalf of the screwed-up environment, or to protect endangered species by simply raising awareness. I don’t do it for the congrats; I do it because that’s what human beings are able to do. We have the capability to help someone or something in need.

    Yesterday I saved a dragonfly from the lake. It had been knocked out of the air by our roughhousing on our inner tube and lay in the water, struggling. I scooped it out of the water, waited for it to dry its wings, and off it flew. One little dragonfly. It made me feel good. I can imagine how you felt when you helped that man. You’re a good egg. 😉

    1. Human beings are capable of some pretty amazing stuff if we put our hearts into it! You do amazing work with the environment and animals, honey. I greatly respect all that you do!

      Awww…a dragonfly success story! I’m always the “bug rescuer” because I try to save all living creatures. It’s a sickness, but a good one. 😉

  5. Britt by stopping and acknowledging this man you did more good than just giving him a sandwich you made him feel human and not invisible. Talking, and looking him in the eye is the greater gift and if we all shared a sandwich and a chat with those less fortunate the world would be a better place.

  6. This is a great story. I love when people do things just cause. No worry about a “Thank you” or any other adulation. Keep doing good things 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by! My apologies for a delayed response, but I’ve been out of the country.

      Doing things just because is something I have been trying to do more of this year. It’s a good goal!

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