Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Daily heroes

On Sunday, I was riding along the Blue Line (one of the central Chicago train lines) out to Forest Park when a tall, young man walked into our car. He was tall, a bit heavy-set, and was wearing multiple layers of mismatched clothes to combat the frigid weather. Without looking around, he trudged through and asked whether anyone had some change to spare. It sounded like a well-worn line, certain that everyone would ignore him.

One man on board stared him straight in the eye and asked how old he was. "Twenty-five" was the reply. The older gentleman gently shook his head and began to ask deeper questions, learning where the young fellow was from and where he was going. The latter was frozen, as I doubt anyone had ever talked to him directly in this manner. He eventually sat down next to the older man as he continued to be quizzed.

The older man was well-dressed, and looked tired from a long day of work. He was an attorney, he explained, and had spent many years working in Washington before heading west to Chicago." After learning the young man's full story, the lawyer asked him if he had a driver's license. "No sir," the younger guy said. "Well, I've got lots of people who need drivers right now. You'd have to wear a suit but you can get started right now."

"Thank you, thank you," the younger mumbled. Before he could say anything else, the lawyer said, "Now we've got to get you a suit. What size are you? And what about shirt size?"

The young man was taken aback by this turn of events. Gerald (his name was Gerald) didn't know what his neck size was, presumably because he had never been fitted for a dress shirt before.

After hashing out some more details, the lawyer said "Now all you need to do is show up on Madison and California, Tuesday morning. You got it?" "Yes sir, yes sir" was the reply, as the young man stepped off the train. 

Did Gerald show up this morning? Who knows. But this is the heart of community, where neighbors put themselves out there to help others and break the cycle of poverty. The positive effect of having a job is so much more powerful and sustainable than handing Gerald some loose change. Instead of relying on poverty to do good (ie, giving out money), a legitimate effort was made to halt poverty and give the young man a fresh start. This is the type of leader that I hope I will become, and will start to become today. 

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