Every year around Christmas, we are reminded to think of people other than ourselves and find ways of sacrificing something we value, like our money and time, to give to someone more in need. I tend to also use this time of year to reminisce about the moments people helped me, some of them complete strangers, and express gratitude for their sacrificing for me in a time of desperation.
One of those moments was when strangers came together to keep me from sleeping in my car after realizing I had no place to stay.
I was 21 years old, burnt out from working a dead-end job and wanted a new challenge in a different place. I happened to become friends with someone I met online who lived in Nashville, Tenn., and we mutually came up with the idea of me moving to Music City for a fresh start. He offered a room at his house, which he claimed to own, and even to introduce me to a friend who might help me start a new career with a job opportunity.
Before making the decision to move, I visited Nashville to meet him and discuss further —in hindsight, I should have asked to see his home. Decision made, I packed my entire life into my car and drove from New Jersey to Nashville. As I got closer to my destination, he still wasn’t answering my calls; as the clock was winding down, I became more desperate.
Finally, an hour before my arrival, he answered and told me coldly, “Sorry, you can’t stay here.” I was confused about what had happened and angry he would lie to me about something so serious.
I had fortunately secured a position in a national pharmaceutical retailer’s alarm-monitoring division weeks before departing. After a disappointing weekend, my first day of work rolled around on Monday. I sat down with my manager, who affably asked, “How was your move? Did you get settled in with your friend?” I didn’t have it in me to lie to him, so I gave him the whole story. I explained that I’d be fine and sleep in my car until I saved enough money for an apartment.
Before the end of my shift, my manager pulled me aside and told me he couldn’t have me sleeping in my car. The managers decided to pool their money to put me in a hotel room until I could get on my feet.
These people knew me for only a matter of hours, and they sacrificed their own money to help me in a dire time in my life to keep me safe in a hotel room. I stayed in various hotel rooms for about four weeks until I was able to put a deposit down on a nearby apartment.
I showed my gratitude every day I entered work and was a model employee. If they needed someone to fill a shift, I volunteered. If my manager needed something, I did it enthusiastically. They never asked for a penny back from me — and I really appreciated that they never told my other co-workers what was going on.
Months later, I found out my “friend” had lied to me about much of his life and never owned his own home. Nevertheless, the good and honorable people who managed me found it in their hearts to sacrifice for me. That major act of kindness is something I think about often.
A lot has happened since then, but that Nashville experience shaped who I am today. Now through my publishing operation, I’m able to help people find their voices and amplify them.
With the craziness of social media and 24/7 political bantering, it sometimes seems like everyone is either losing his mind or a raging narcissist. But whenever I start to lean in that pessimistic direction, I think about those generous people — because there are far more people like them that exist than we realize.
Christmastime is that moment of the year when we can show the best versions of ourselves in hopes it will become an addictive pattern of behavior afterward. Let Christmas be the beginning of an endless marathon of charity, as you never know whose life you’ll change.
Adam B. Coleman is the author of “Black Victim to Black Victor” and founder of Wrong Speak Publishing. Follow him on Substack: adambcoleman.substack.com.
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