I love to run on weekends. I go around a nearby park because I love seeing all the different people there. Some are busy fishing, others playing on playgrounds, running or setting up for a birthday party. And some folks are homeless, sitting on park benches contemplating life or maybe wondering what to eat for breakfast.
Last week, I started out like always: with the intention of making two laps around the park, then back home. It’s a five-mile route. During my first lap, I passed a man who appeared to be homeless. He had a kind face, not bothering anyone. He was seated on a bench near the lake.
Now, you should know that I make it a point to greet as many people as I can while on my run. it’s a personal challenge I give myself because it gives me energy and positive vibes. And I’m always shocked that some don’t even respond. The few that do typically lack energy and enthusiasm.
What was unusual about this man was, first of all, that he greeted me. But not only that, it was how he greeted me that caught my attention. It was refreshing, but not much changed until I passed him on the second and final lap. This time, he not only greeted me like before, but he also gave me a quick word of encouragement, holding up two fingers with an expression on his face that he was impressed I was still running (as if two laps was a tremendous feat). But to him that did not matter. He represented the best in human nature- paying a complement to a stranger with no expectation of a reward in return.
I grinned and returned the greeting, waving and running along, trying to keep my pace. But the interaction stuck with me.
As I ran along, my intention was to head home. Instantly, a small part of me was sad I would not see him again. But then a new thought popped into my head. What would he say if I passed him a third time? I started feeling like a little grade school kid who’s easily persuaded to do a chore by a simple “count-to-ten” challenge from his parents.
So I did.
On the third round, he gave me just about what I expected. Cue the endorphins. I kept going. The next lap, I started looking forward to passing the park bench about half way through the lap, searching across the lake for it in anticipation. On the fourth lap he was equally as enthusiastic, greeting me with a kind smile.
After the fourth lap around the park, it was time to head home before my wife filed a missing person report. I decided that I would run one more and pause this time to thank this homeless man before running home. But to my dismay, the park bench was empty. I didn’t get to end my run the way I had intended.
So, here I am, thanking this stranger for giving me even just a small token of himself. A simple gesture that took very little time or effort on his part, but made a difference to me. Something that pushed me to run three extra miles. With each lap, I made a simple decision to run just one more, all because I wanted the encouragement this homeless man was giving out. In all, I ran over eight miles, much farther than my typical five.
And what a lesson he taught me. To change the world, we don’t have to have super powers, a million dollars or appear on the next cover of Success Magazine. To change the world, simply change one person’s life in a small way.