It was November 12th, 2013. It was 37º outside, with intense wind whipping through the glass jungle that is Manhattan.
A man down on his luck on the streets of NYC sat his bag down on the ground, took off his jacket, laid it down, and wrapped the leash to his dog’s collar around the fence, bringing him over to sit warmly on the jacket, rather than the concrete.
The man then reached inside his bag, pulling out a sign that read “Down on luck! Spare a buck?” and propped it up on a large water bottle, but not before emptying half of the bottle in to a cup for the dog to drink as he picked a book from his bag to read.
I sat guilty behind the window in warm comfort sipping my coffee as I watched enamored by the different reactions from passersby.
Some look sad, some don’t look at all, some see then turn chin-up as if they have too much “class” to consider helping someone in need.
One woman, however, showed that she had more to give than any of the others — the compassion of a good heart.
As she passed by the man, looking down at his sign, she quickly noticed the dog and the obvious connection the man had to him.
I saw her inspecting, as I had, all the signs that this was not a selfish man, but simply a man humbled by the world and fighting to get his life back in order. A man trying to support the only companion he seemed to have in this hard life he was living, his dog.
The woman, pulling her gloves off, ducked inside of the Duane Reade across from the man — returning moments later with a bag full of canned goods, beans, and soups.
The man went through the bag the gracious woman had handed him, his dog watching patiently seeming to understand somehow the significance of what had just happened.
Then without a shred of hesitation the man pried open one of the few cans of beans, filled a bowl with it, and handed it straight away to his dog.
The woman, leaving to get on with her morning looked back, and when she saw the bowl sat down in front of the dog, and the dog eating vigorously, she smiled, seeming to know that her hunch to help was the right choice.
Who knows how long it had been since this dog had eaten, who knows how long it had been since the man had eaten, but with the obvious love that he showed for his dog, and having another see that love, the man and the dog were provided for in a gracious gift by a caring stranger.
Class is not defined by how much money you have, your political or social standing, how many friends you have, what kind of job you have, what you wear, or where you live.
Class is defined by how much love you have in your heart, and the humility within yourself to act when another is in need.
Class is coming to the aid of someone who clearly needs it, despite their appearance or place in society, and giving unconditionally.
Class is shown by worrying first about those closest to you, before yourself — as well as to strangers who obviously need the help.
Class is knowing when to ask for help, and doing what is right when help is given.
I don’t know this man, I don’t know his name, I don’t know what he has done in his life, I don’t know the events that carried him to the place where he was in his life — sitting on the street with only his dog to comfort him and keep him happy.
But what I do know is that this man, from what I saw in the span of 15 minutes, had more class than the sum of those who passed him by without stopping or slowing down, without empathizing with his situation, and without showing an ounce of pure compassion for the fellow person in need.
If we had more people like the man on the sidewalk, and the woman walking by, this world would be a better place.
Sean Smith’s Bio: