This is a story I heard yesterday. It was told by a young guy at the cafe table next to mine, with a shaved head and rippling muscles, wearing a tank top, cargo shorts, and dog tags. Earlier that morning, he explained, he had been sitting by himself outside when a stranger approached him.
“I think I’m going to kill myself,” the man said.
“I think I’m going to kill myself.”
The young guy looked him over. He believed the man. “Okay,” he said. “Sit down and talk to me.”
The stranger wouldn’t sit down, but he didn’t leave. “Why do you want to kill yourself?” the young guy asked. The man told him he’d had enough. He said he planned to shoot himself. He didn’t know what else to do.
“I’d like to help you. Can I help you?”
The stranger shrugged.
“Can I call the police to come help you? I’ll stay here with you until they get here.” The man nodded.
“Are you carrying a weapon?” He nodded again. “Okay, look — we don’t want there to be any trouble when the cops come. So can I take your weapon away from you?”
Another nod. The young guy stood and gently patted the man down. He found a pistol in his clothes, which he removed. He ejected the clip, unloaded it, and set the disassembled gun down next to them. Then he called the police.
When the cops arrived, they talked to the stranger and asked if he wanted to come with them. He said that he did. So they led him to the car, taking the young guy’s phone number before they left. They called him that afternoon to tell him the stranger’s name and that he was getting the help he needed.
We look at the hate and death in the news today, and it’s hard not to despair, but we are not doomed. We feel helpless, but none of our actions are futile. We change the world the most by intently being as good as we can, by approaching every decision with the aim of being kind.
“I guess I did a good thing today,” the young guy said without pride or drama. We are not hopeless.