As I look with increasing dismay at the discord within American society, I am reminded of the times that people have shown extraordinary kindness to me. One case in particular comes to mind, and it allowed me to finish law school without dying of starvation.
Before we go further, the reference to starvation is not hyperbole. Due to the divorce of my parents, I put myself through school, and even with generous financial assistance from the school, things were dire. And in those days, there was no such thing as a food pantry in that area, and I didn’t qualify for food stamps. (Yes, thanks Ronald Reagan.)
Most days, dinner and lunch were a single box of preseasoned lentils, often from the damaged food section of the local supermarket that catered to food stamp recipients and persons of limited means. Thus, I was living on about 1600 calories a day—not nearly enough for someone 6’2” and athletic.
One day, around 9:00 PM, I pulled in to the local KFC for the only meat I could afford — a once every few weeks box of six chicken wings. And I have to tell you — on a diet like mine, those chicken wings were like heaven. I savored each mouthful, slowly enjoying the fat, sorely lacking in my diet, the spice, and the crispy skin.
That week, though, something was different. The manager looked at me, looked at me again, and said, “Give me a few minutes.” And I waited, and waited, and waited some more. And while I am not usually a grouchy customer, I was ready to leave in a snit, when the manager came to the window with several huge bags of fried chicken — stuff that would have gone in the dumpster — and said, “Here. For you. No charge. And I’ll see you again next Friday.”
And so it went for the next two years of law school. I put on about 30 pounds, which still left me very lean, but healthy looking. The chicken was delicious, and to this day I don’t know why the manager was so kind to me. Maybe I looked tired and hungry. Maybe it was the fact I had to count out pennies to pay for my handful of chicken wings. Maybe I looked desperate.
There was another positive side effect of his generosity, which is that with adequate nutrition, I did better in school. My memory was sharper, I was a more cogent writer, and the noise of my stomach growling didn’t disturb classmates.
I’ll never know the manager’s name or the reason for his kindness. But I am forever grateful for this kindness to a skinny, insecure kid in grad school with no real family or friends.
And I try to pay it forward, in the hopes that his kindness will have a larger meaning.
Isn’t that the sort of care we should show for each other?