On Christmas Eve 1991, my wife of about four years had a small one bedroom apartment in the city of Buena Park, Ca. The recession of that time had impacted everyone we knew. We were both blessed to have been working and wanted for little. We were still in our twenties with our lives ahead of us.
I married into a family that believed if you worked hard and kept conservative values, you would reap the rewards of a happy life. Her family had little regard for those less fortunate as themselves. Little did I know that was the year that I changed their opinion. Neither of us were particularly religious at that time and we still aren't today.
We were wrapping gifts that evening and decided to go to MacDonald's for some Hamburgers and fries. We decided to go through the drive-thru window and then get back to wrapping gifts. While waiting in line, I saw something that I could never forget.
A couple that I assumed to be homeless were going through a dumpster at the convenience store next door. They had a small child with them no more than seven years old. They were rummaging food from the dumpster and giving it to their child to eat. My wife was appalled by the sight. She regarded the family as "dead beats", rolled her eyes and began to criticize the family for not adequately feeding their child. I remained silent as I watched and she spoke.
Once we exited the drive-thru, I could not get that vision from my mind. I had never done anything impulsive before in my life, I just ached for that family. I turned the car around and invited the family to come inside our car for warmth and for some food. (OK, it was MacDonald's, but food nonetheless.) My wife was dumbstruck.
As we sat in the car eating, I asked the man why they were homeless. He stated that he was working for a defense contractor in the 80's and was laid off from work for over a year and they had lost their home and did not have any relatives in California to help them. He was a proud man and stated that he would rather be homeless than accept public assistance. I asked them if they had a place to stay for the night and they did not. My wife was quiet the whole time.
I offered to pay for a motel room for the family as I explained to them that a person should not be out on the streets for Christmas. They graciously accepted. I took the family to a local motel, checked them in for the night, unbeknownst to them that I had paid for a whole week. On my way back to the office to pay for the week, I instructed the clerk not to inform the family until it was check-out time that the room had been paid for the coming week.
My wife sat in the car speechless with tears rolling down here cheeks. She appeared amazed by my actions as I did it without consulting her. I was methodical, almost angry in my approach with this situation, showing no emotion. I just felt that it was the right thing to do. On the way home, my wife told me that she was ashamed of herself due to her blatant judgment of this family. Once we arrived home, I went into the bathroom to take a shower and she called her six sisters and told them what I had just done. Most thought I was a fool for wasting good money and criticized us for it.
The next morning we met her family for Christmas. Each of her sisters had asked about the whereabouts of the motel that I left the family. I could tell that their wheels where turning. Before we sat down for dinner, one of my sister-in-law's apologized for being so judgmental about what I had done. While my wife and I were inside the house, the sister's husbands had loaded the back of a pick up truck with food, blankets, grocery gift certificates and gifts for the child. They handed me an envelope with enough cash for the family to stay an additional six weeks. I was then instructed to take the bounty to the family. My heart was so full by their generosity, I hardly remember the trip to the motel.
It has been nearly ten years since I committed that random act of kindness. My wife and I talk about it fondly and she often reminds me that because of my selfless actions that holiday season, she and her family had become kinder, less judgmental people. She also states that she knew that night that she "married a good man." I don't know about that but I found out years later that it was her sister's spouses that were overcome by my acts that they convinced their wives to try to understand my actions. To this day, I can't even explain why I did what I did. I just thought it was the human thing to do. The only thing I do know is that it started a chain reaction in generosity.
I do not know what has become of that family that I helped. I just hope that if they ever got themselves on their feet that they would do the same for someone else. Nothing more, nothing less.