“A simple act of kindness can change a life. I’m not saying my small act of kindness changed a life… but I would like to believe that it will have a ripple effect in a positive way.
I was working in downtown Portland, Oregon, on a large event. At the end of the first day my feet were sore, and I was tired. Although I live in the Portland Metro area, I was staying at a Hotel the first night of the event so I could easily kick things off on Tuesday – our biggest day. I decided that I would take a walk and try and find my favorite shoe store since I am downtown maybe once every couple of years. I headed in that direction, the weather was a perfect Pacific NW Fall day, a warm 65 degrees, cool breeze, leaves blanketing the sidewalks. I soon discovered that the store I loved had moved to a part of Portland that would take me at least 30 minutes to walk to. I contemplated getting a Lift or walking the 2 miles. My feet hurt from being on them all day, and the thought of walking 2 miles was not appealing, but on the other hand… I was enjoying the beautiful fall weather and the energy of the city, so I decided to walk.
Portland, like most large cities I would imagine, has a homeless crisis and most of the homeless are downtown sidewalk residents. I passed many of the homeless during my walk, and then about half way I came across a young man that reminded me of my own son. He was sitting quietly with his little Pitty (my favorite dog breed) so I walked over, kneeled and told him I didn’t have any cash on me before I asked if I could pet his dog. We chatted for a few minutes. He told me his dog’s name was Toothless, he was headed to California and hoped to be sitting on a beach with Toothless soon.
‘I have to get to the store before it closes, but if you’re still here when I make the return walk, I’ll make sure to stop with some cash for you,’ I told him.
He was super sweet and tugged at my heart strings. My own son was that young man not too long ago, living on the streets, addicted, holding a sign, begging for money, and I had no idea where he was or if he was alive or dead.
I crossed the street, rounded a corner and immediately began looking for an ATM. Funny enough, an older homeless man heard me asking someone if they knew where an ATM was and the homeless, old man directed me to an ATM just inside Powels Book Store, which is where I was standing directly in front of. Decision time… I had 25 minutes to get to my shoe store before they closed… or keep walking, forgo the shoes and get some money – head back to that young man. I got the money, headed back to where I had seen him just 5 minutes earlier. As I was headed back however, I was prompted to make this exchange mean something. Even better, I knew right away what that meant. I had a plan, all within a span of a few minutes.
His backpack was there, yet he was not. A quick look around would find him across the street talking with another homeless young man with yet another beautiful dog that needed my lovin’s! I quickly made my way across the street, and as I approached – he recognized me. I quickly and quietly handed him a $20 and as I did, I said, ‘How long has it been since you have talked to your mom?’ He replied, ‘Oh, it’s been a long time, I don’t really know.’ I said, ‘I’d like you to do me a favor. Call your mom and let her know you are alive and ok – will you do that for me?’ His face lit up and immediately he said, ‘Sure, I’ll call her right now if I can borrow your phone.’ I’ll admit there was a nano second of hesitation that if I handed this kid my phone he might take off with it… But I handed it to him because God was obviously in control and He just kept telling me that I needed to do this.
The young man called his mom. She answered right away and they began visiting. I wanted him to be able to talk to his mother without a nosey bystander, so I knelt down and began chatting with the other young man while petting his sweet dog. He was a little older, a little wiser and kind. I also asked him about his mom and I also gave him a few bucks. He told me his mom had been on meth since before his birth and a call to her would be meaningless. I felt such a pang of hurt for him. About that time, the other kid was telling me that his mom wanted me to hug him for her, and then he put her on speaker. I wish I could describe in words the reaction she had – her tone, her excitement, her relief at hearing her son’s voice. She was confused at who I was, as the young man tried to explain I was ‘just someone who stopped to give him some money.’ She asked me to hug him for her and he said, ‘Oh mom, she doesn’t want to hug me, I am filthy and I stink.’ She thanked me, he took her off speaker and said his goodbye’s. After he hung up and handed my phone back, he said again, ‘She really wanted you to hug me for her, but I know I stink.’ I didn’t care… he needed the hug, his mom needed me to hug her son… so I hugged him tight, and he hugged me tight. I hugged him like I would have held my own son, for a long time, with a mother’s love – a love that has no boundaries, stench or not, homeless, high… doesn’t matter. I told him I wished him well and I hoped he was sober, would be ok and to please, please, please stay in touch with him momma.
The story doesn’t end there… It would be 2 weeks before I gathered the courage and listened to the soft, nagging voice to call his mother myself. After all, her number was still in my phone. I listened as the phone rang, secretly hoping no one would answer, my heart pounding – did I just imagine how happy she was, make up a story in own head because that’s what I would have wanted? Relief came with voicemail – however, I did leave her a message, then hung up and went about my day. Less than FIVE minutes later my phone rang. It was a Missouri number, it was her – that kid’s mom! She and her husband were camping and barely had service, she saw a missed call from Oregon and said to her husband – ‘That was a number from Oregon, oh my gosh did I miss a call from John?!’ They immediately drove to a parking lot on a hill where they could get limited reception. She was near tears when she called me back – I wasn’t John (yes, now I know his name), but I was ‘that woman who met her son and asked him to call her.’
Not only was I ‘that woman,’ I was a mom who knows the struggle, who won’t judge, who understands. We didn’t talk long – long enough to know we have traveled the same road with our sons, long enough to learn she has a son in law enforcement and a son with a record, and so do I, long enough to learn that she has hadn’t heard from her son in five long weeks which was unusual – she wasn’t even sure he was alive and had been praying for her son to call her – long enough to know I had been a vessel and answer to her prayers. She asked if she could call me when she returned home in a few days. I am confident I have found another sister in this journey of addiction and emotional disorders, another lifeline, another connection.
I posted a much shorter version of this story on Facebook the evening I met John – my attempt to raise awareness, implore people to be kind and look beyond the sign, beyond the stench, beyond the begging, and see the face… because that face is missed and loved by someone. One of the responses on my post was ‘tonight you hugged all of our struggling sons.’
My message to you… hug someone’s struggling son or daughter. Look beyond what you see on the outside, pay attention to that inner voice – whatever that is for you – for me, it’s God. Listen, love and hug!
PS: I ordered my shoes online that evening.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stacey Ladd of Cornelius, Oregon. Do you have child who suffers with addiction? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read Stacey’s powerful backstory about her own son’s struggle with addiction:
‘This typing… is Tyler. I am the junkie of our family. My mom and I were best friends, then addiction struck.’
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