Commentary

Saunders: Forget what some people say – all hope is not lost in America

bsaunders@newsobserver.comNovember 12, 2013 

Psst. Hey kid. Pay no attention to those people behind the curtain, the ones telling you how screwed up we all are or what an angry, dysfunctional country this is.

If all one knew of American life was what you saw on the evening news or in newspaper headlines, you could indeed think this country was irreparably messed up.

You’d be wrong.

Oh sure, there are cynics out there, people who search for the dark cloud behind every silver lining, folks for whom nothing succeeds like failure – other people’s failure or even, some hope, the country’s failure.

Affirming incidents

There is another world out there, though – one in which people actually care for each other and wish each other well. I saw two incidents last week that illustrated that – incidents that could have been easily ignored.

I almost did.

While I was parking the dudemobile in front of the Noodles & Co. and Dunkin’ Donuts on Erwin Road near Duke University Medical Center on Wednesday, a dirty, down-on-his-luck fellow with perhaps five teeth – and not very good ones, at that – approached. He said he was “very hungry” and asked if I had a couple of bucks.

Me: Dang. man. You caught me at a bad time: I have it.

I gave him the money and went on my way to an appointment.

Moments later I saw that the same cat was putting the touch on another guy. This man did not give him any money, though: He invited him into the store and bought him some food.

After making sure I was early for my meeting, I went to find the man who’d invited the poor man in to eat.

He was now a block away, going on about his business and causing me to have to run to catch up to him.

If you’ve seen me lately, you know I don’t do “running” well.

I finally caught up to him, but had to catch my breath before telling him why I’d been calling and chasing him.

I introduced myself, told him I’d seen what he did and asked why he’d bought a meal for a stranger.

“I don’t really know,” said the man, Alec Wierzbieki of Reading, Pa. Wierzbieki, 23, is majoring in clinical psychology at Duke University and minoring in philosophy. He already has a good one – philosophy, that is.

‘Right thing to do’

“I wasn’t motivated by any altruistic sense or anything,” Wierzbieki answered. “There’s always some concern that you’re being scammed, but I just thought this guy could use some help.

“It just seemed,” he said, “like the right thing to do.”

It just seemed like the right thing to do. Wow.

Calvin Coolidge, as president, said the business of America is business. I disagree: I think the business of America is looking out for each other.

There is a current picture that has gone viral on the Internet of a young man on a New York subway train wearing a hooded jacket and sleeping on the shoulder of a man in a yarmulke.

Astoundingly to many, the man in the yarmulke does nothing. He just lets the tired man sleep. When a fellow passenger asked if the man wanted him to shake the sleeping stranger, he said no.

“He had a long day, so let him sleep,” the New York Daily News quoted the man as saying. “We’ve all been there.”

A small thing? You betcha, and cynics are falling all over themselves to point it out as such. I’ll tell you what, though: If you look at that picture and all you see is a nodding man leaning on a stranger, you need a checkup from the neck up.

Why? Because small thing though it is, enough small things strung together will make one big thing. One big thing will make this world better.

Speaking of a better world, while I was talking to Wierzbieki on the sidewalk, I noticed another man 50 feet away stop and give money to a down-on-her-luck woman sitting at a bus stop. She was beseeching passersby for change.

The man was obviously in a hurry, but when some of the money he gave her hit the sidewalk, he patiently picked it up and placed it in her hand. He then dashed off to wherever he’d been headed.

I called after him, because after running a block to catch up with one good Samaritan, I was in no shape to run after another. He looked back as though he thought I was fixing to put the touch on him, too, and kept on truckin’.

Too bad. I didn’t get to thank him personally for helping the woman and for reinvigorating my faith in humanity, so I’ll do it now. Thanks, homes.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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