Re-establishing human kindness

What a bizarre world we live in where we judge other humans who are surviving by collecting the scraps.

by Kate Nelson

As a freshman, I was suckered into buying Gopher football season tickets. I’ve purchased them my remaining three years here as well.

Truth be told, I’m not an avid football fan. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I, well, don’t like the sport. I’ve shelled out $60 each year to watch players I don’t care about participate in a game I don’t enjoy. But this really goes beyond the pigskin.

Last year, while partaking in the pre-game ritual of tailgating, I was somehow able to see through the blur of maroon and gold across the parking lots that once lined Washington Avenue. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say a scene was so striking it cut through all this chaos.

Above the cacophony of Ski-U-Mah cheers, the clashing musical genres pouring from all directions and the drunken babble, came the sound of aluminum cans brushing up against one another’s metal exteriors.

Across the lot was a middle-aged homeless couple, gathering the beer cans strewn across the pavement. Any other day, I’m not sure what I would have done, but that particularly brisk morning, I strode over to the twosome’s shopping carts full of cans and introduced myself.

They were quite surprised to have me approach them, let alone speak. It probably paralleled a zoo creature coming out of its human-created habitat to acknowledge the presence of the people on the other side of the Plexiglas. I’m still not sure which of us was the caged beast.

As they continued to weave through the packs of oblivious Gopher fans, I inquired about their lives. They explained football games were quite literally big clean-up days for them, what with the can-covered concrete.

As I asked more questions, I began to help pick up what seemed to them like newfound treasures. This, again, struck them as odd. They regaled me with tales of last year’s harvest, which brought in enough money to allow them a few nights’ sleep in a hotel and some enjoyable restaurant meals. Without prompting, they explained they didn’t spend any money on drugs or alcohol but rather on blankets to help them endure the winter nights.

While we made our rounds, the few gold-clad college students who did notice us cast looks of what I cannot truthfully describe as anything but disgust. What a bizarre world we live in where teenagers and twenty-somethings have the audacity to judge other humans who are surviving by collecting the scraps dropped from the table.

Almost without me realizing it, we eventually wandered back to my spot of origin. At this point, I was coaxed into heading over to the Metrodome. Before leaving, I handed the couple the cash I had brought with me that day, which I knew I would spend frivolously and they would cherish. Still astonished at the entire incident, they expressed such gratitude for the 15 minutes of my life I had given them.

This fall, I saw the couple again; I didn’t approach them as they scoured the lot for cans. Instead, I remembered what my time and my acknowledgment of their presence and their situation had meant to them.

It’d do us all some good to realize what 15 minutes, dollars or words can do for the humans around us, because they are just that — humans.

Kate Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]