Thoughts Over Coffee: Change Through Helping Others

Slipping through the double glass doors to get my morning charge up, the aroma of beans wafted through the air and into my nostrils. Ah, sweet coffee in the morning! I didn't think twice about the long line of groggy, angry looking faces ready to stampede the pimply-faced young clerk behind the counter. Clearly, people get serious about their coffee and even through job loss, poor economy, and foreclosures, people are still standing in line and paying exorbitant prices to get their morning cup of java.

Standing in the middle of this sleepy line, I found myself studying the types of people surrounding me at this prominent Westside coffee bar. At the front of the line stood a woman dressed in a royal blue leotard pushing an Eddie Bauer baby carriage with a rolled-up yoga mat sticking out of the lower compartment. "I want my Mocha Frappuccino Light, now!" her shrill voice leaked out. "Oh my God, I'm late for my yoga class." She tossed a five dollar bill frivolously across the counter to the teenage cashier.

A tall man dressed in tattered, stained 1960 Army fatigues rolled his eyes while standing behind her. The man's dirty hands were buried into an old Baja Fresh cup, searching for more loose change than was there. He shouted, "Just a small coffee!" half scaring the two businessmen directly behind him. The businessmen dressed to the nines in three-piece suits were commenting on the permeating odor of the man in front of them. They seemed to be having a good chuckle at his expense and in between clucks the word "homeless" caught my attention. The change now poured out of the man's cup onto the counter. He was struggling to find enough money to pay. At this point, the line turned even more hostile and pointed their hostility toward him. The cashier noticeably tapped his foot. The sighs of the line in front and behind me sounded like a gust of wind had just entered the small coffee shop.

A tingle of guilt spread over me for I felt I was too at fault for my own impatience to quickly get my caffeine fix and move on with my morning. Mixed with that guilt was a sense of anger, not at the presumed homeless man, but at the two pompous self-absorbed businessmen. Reaching into the pocket of my blue, faded jeans, I pulled out and opened my warm, very thin wallet and looked down at the $6 I had to sustain me for the rest of the day. I reached in, grabbed a buck, and handed it to the struggling man to help complete his purchase. A smile gleamed across his face and the redness dissipated from his cheeks. "Thanks, brother," he said as I quietly retreated to my spot in line. "No problem," I replied.

As I hopped onto the Big Blue Bus, headed for Santa Monica College, I began to ponder my reasons for doing what I did. At first I thought it was just plain funny to see the faces on the two stuck-up suits as I, the younger man in the obvious lower socioeconomic bracket and dressed like a student, helped the homeless man, instead of they. Approaching the campus, it began to dawn on me the real reason. I think that subconsciously, President Barack Obama's speech on election night had been stewing in my brain, but not yet fully processed. I recall I had cried that night, his speech bringing me to tears. His voice rang clear to me and the meaning behind his words even clearer. Society needs to make a change one person at a time. President Obama said: "Above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand." I am only an unemployed, in-debt student, grandson, son, brother, husband and father of two, but I made a difference this morning. Maybe if all of us help a little, whether it is just a dollar or ordering a smaller coffee, we can lend a hand in some way to someone in need. We can make this nation a better place, not perfect, but maybe just a little better.

I will leave you with President Obama's words. "[Change] can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice."