November 30, 2012

What Would Sue Do?

Jennifer Foster/AP
Most folks by now have heard the story of the police officer who purchased a pair of socks and boots for a homeless man in Manhattan.  To illustrate how far the story's spread, here's the article in the Seattle Times.

According to reports, NYPD officer Larry DePrimo, was on patrol in Times Square earlier this month, wearing two pairs of socks himself, when he came upon a homeless man with bare feet.  DePrimo went to a nearby shoe store, got a pair of insulated boots and some socks, and helped the homeless man put them on.  The moment was captured by Jennifer Foster, a tourist from Arizona; it ended up on Facebook (I got it from one of my friends here in Syracuse yesterday), and the rest is history.  DePrimo has received gold cuff links from the NYPD, made the national news last night, and is making the morning show rounds.

So, what do you think is the most noteworthy part of this story? The dollar value of the kindness?  The fact that it happened in New York City?  The fact that it was a police officer who was the giver of the kindness? That it went viral?

I mean, I doubt that, had a tourist from New York City been visiting Jennifer Foster's town in Arizona and seen the same thing happen, a photo would have been taken, that the officer would be visiting the Today Show this morning, or that this would be a news story thousands of miles away.

The fact that it went viral is a no-brainer -- heck, a pretty picture of a snowflake can 'go viral' on the right day.  And I am impressed by the officer's level of kindness - $75 is a lot of money to many folks, especially at the holidays. And the fact that it was one of New York's finest makes it more interesting than if it had been just a regular Joe, but I'm sure there are others who have done a similar good deed, and not been caught on camera.

See, the thing that really got me about this story, the thing that's noteworthy to me, is not how it made me think about DePrimo, but how it made me feel about me.  Not in a 'thank my lucky stars that I'm not homeless' kind of way, but in a WWSD (that's What Would Sue Do?) kind of way.

Years ago, one cold winter day, I was waiting for the bus, which I could see a couple blocks away, and there was what I assumed to be a homeless woman nearby, bare hands, several coats, and as my bus approached I took off my warm gloves and held them out to the woman, offering them to her.  She refused, mumbling something under her breath, then turned away and stomped off down the street. I tried, I thought to myself, and at the time it seemed like enough.

And sure, I've given change to panhandlers, hundreds of times, and when I smoked I'd sometimes give cigarettes to 'street people', as we called them back in the day. But as many times as I've said yes, I've probably said no a thousand-fold. And truth be told, when I see the people standing with their signs at the off-ramps or busy intersections, I look away, rather than help.

WWSD?  I would like to think that, faced with the same circumstances as Officer DePrimo, I would have done something, something more than take a picture of someone else doing what I could have done, what I should have done.

I have some work to do, apparently. I'd like to think that, in the future, faced with a similar situation, I will do something.

I think I'll keep Foster's photo around for a while, to remind me of how much work I have to do.

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