A couple of weeks ago, I was winding my way from the Illinois Department of Human Rights (more accurately called The Illinois Department of Human Frights) on Randolph Street to the (Un)Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on West Madison Street. I was not in a good mood. The ineptness and pro-management posture of both these agencies is alarming.

Instead of going west on Madison, I went west on Washington Street, certain that “all roads lead to Rome” (EEOC in this case). While crossing the bridge over the river, I spied a beggar seated at the end. I assumed he would know where the Metra station was, the same building that houses the EEOC.  

The beggar sat in a large bag made from tarp material that covered him from his feet to his waist. As I approached him, I noticed that he held an empty coffee cup. Even though he said nothing, I gave him a donation since I was going to ask him for assistance. He thanked me for the donation, and I asked him for directions to the Metra station. He pointed in the direction I was headed and said, “It’s just down there where the Metra signs are.” Of course, I couldn’t see the signs. Per usual, I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Whenever it’s cold or breezy outside (and it was both that day), I spend so much time removing my glasses to wipe away tears that I decide not to wear them at all.

I guess my squinting and the blank look on my face let the beggar know that I couldn’t see the signs. He assured me that Metra was just a little way down the street and that I would soon see the signs.   As he was giving me this assurance and I was thanking him, a well-dressed woman headed in my direction stopped next to us. She asked the beggar, “Aren’t you cold?” He said, “A little bit.”   The woman pulled a scarf from around her neck and gave it to the beggar. He immediately wrapped it around his exposed neck. His face lit up, and he thanked her and told her how much he appreciated it. The woman’s face also lit up as she told him he was more than welcome.

The woman had apparently overheard the conversation about Metra. She told me she was going there. I walked along with her, babbling about her kind gesture and how refreshing it was to witness such a kind act. The woman said that it was really a small gesture; that she was going to be on a warm train and from there get into a car; that people didn’t have to commit big acts to be kind; that it was the small acts that count, acts that everyone can do everyday. Ahhh! The humanity! When we reached the Metra building, I thanked her and wished her the best for the New Year. A few days later, I was talking to my sister, who lives in the south where they were getting walloped by snow. She mentioned that a neighbor had taken his wife to her job at a supermarket and was calling other people in his neighborhood to see if they needed anything from the store before he returned home.   Ahhh! The humanity! Indeed, small gestures mean a lot. My faith in humankind is renewed.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...