It was the alarm clock that caught my eye. As I strolled home through downtown, the sight of a homeless man lying under a blanket with a double-bell alarm clock hanging from his head seemed for a moment like stepping into a scene from a Fellini film.
We lay huddled in a doorway as the unsuspecting crowd rushed past for buses and last-minute orders on Thursday night. Then he smiled straight at me and I had to stop.
In his thirties, with a neatly trimmed beard and perfect English, he had recently arrived from North Africa and was due to show up at seven the next morning for a possible janitorial job. “You always sleep too much in the morning, you shouldn’t,” he said, pointing to the clock.
I’m far from the fastest at tossing coins into begging cups on the sidewalk, but something here felt different. I pulled out the only cash I have on me after dark – €20 – handed it to him and wished him luck. “When I’m away from that door next week you’ll know I’m working,” he smiled again.
Four days later, that chance encounter is still alive. Can a small act of generosity increase our well-being and a better nature? Research shows this in the affirmative, with altruism being a proven booster of contentment and happiness. Studies have shown that those prone to consistent kindness are genetically programmed to behave this way—recipients of a “generosity gene” buried in their DNA.
Perhaps it fits the definition of the great Muhammed Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Perhaps the idea of ”paying in advance” is a concept long ingrained in our common cultural history is – a good deed may one day be reciprocated.
Any act of altruism or hospitality, from giving a tourist directions to helping an old lady with her shopping bags, activates the brain’s pleasure dome and releases oxytocin, known as the “love hormone.”
In short, it’s about appreciating our own happiness in life and doing something decent to share it.
The meaning of life is to find your gift – the meaning of life is to give it
For a country that has had far more heartache than happiness over the past 800 years, our island remains a place where the cup of kindness is always half full.
According to the 2021 GoFundMe Giving report, Ireland was the most generous country in the world per capita – for the third year in a row that we topped the global charts, ahead of the US, UK, Canada and Australia.
Whether it’s funding a new GAA place, sending a baby for life-saving surgery, or expressing solidarity with the sadness of Creeslough, the urge to contribute and support runs deep in our bones.
I’ve never been a fan of Picasso’s artistic expression, but I’m beginning to agree with his thoughts on giving: “The meaning of life is to find your gift – the purpose of life is to give it.”
This Thursday I’m going back to check a specific door and look for an alarm clock – and hope no one’s there.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/if-i-am-gone-from-this-doorway-next-week-you-will-know-i-am-working-an-encounter-with-homelessness-made-me-ponder-irish-generosity-42071358.html ‘When I’m away from that door next week you’ll know I’m at work’ – an encounter with homelessness made me reflect on Irish generosity