Earlier today, I decided to get out of the house for a bit and go work at a coffee shop. I work out of my house, so it’s pretty easy to get cabin fever; even when it’s the weekend, work and home have a tendency to blend together. Today, my goal was to get quite a bit of code written for an article I’ll be publishing on Wednesday. I’m further behind than I’d hoped and I was looking at today as a “marathon” to try and catch up. Of course, as they so often do, my plans got sidetracked.
While I was walking into the coffee shop, a man just outside the door gestured at me and asked if I could spare any change. Outside, Illinois decided to give a collective “fuck you” to everyone and make the temperature a toasty 16°F. With the weather so unforgiving, I responded, suggesting we go inside and get a cup of coffee and something to eat.
As we stood in line waiting for our order to be taken, we started to talk. The man introduced himself as “Jarvis"—I missed this initially but asked again later—and explained that he was trying to afford a trip to a homeless shelter downtown. We shuffled through the line and his story unfolded that the temp agency he had been getting work through was slow after the holidays, so his income had abruptly stopped. Without a permanent residence (and any income to afford a place), moving between the streets and a shelter were his best bet.
After we got our order, we found a table and sat down together. Our conversation progressed, asking about one another’s background and what we were up to for the day. Eventually, our conversation twisted into discussing the state of the world—we both lamented that people staring at their cell phones constantly was off-putting—leading me to ask Jarvis what he really wanted to be doing (I don’t quite recall how we got there).
His answer was simple enough "honestly, I’d just be happy to earn a steady income and get my own place.” Looking at myself and some of the other people in the shop, it was a bit gut wrenching. Here I sit with my biggest concern being to write some code while this guy is out trying to find work and a place to sleep for the night. It was one of those moments that snaps you back to reality and helps you to see just how fortunate you really are.
We sipped our drinks for about another hour while I got a bit of work done and then I asked if Jarvis had enough money to get to the shelter downtown. He didn’t, so we walked over to the pharmacy across the parking lot from the coffee shop and I took out a few dollars from the ATM to help him out. As we parted ways, we shook hands and Jarvis suggested he was heading for the train. My day upended—in a unexpectedly positive way—I walked back to the car a bit stunned.
As I drove home, I internally muttered a few “fuck you’s” to myself. I was pulling my hair out before I bumped into Jarvis; a nervous wreck. After spending an hour or so with him—my world view being delightfully snapped in two—I realized I needed to relax. Whatever problems I had, or will have in the future, will likely never even touch what he had to experience just today.
The lesson, of course: be thankful. Be happy you have what you have. A home, something to eat. Whatever sliver of predictability you have in your life that’s allowing you to read this right now: appreciate it. Look at your own problems for what they—likely—are: trivial. One thing is for certain, whenever I get stressed in the future I’ll be thinking of Jarvis, realizing that things aren’t as bad as they may seem in the moment.