I'll never forget the way his eyes lit up when I insulted his favorite football team. I was helping at a soup kitchen and my job was to sit with the men and women and just talk to them while they ate.
So, I sat down next to an older gentleman and we got on the topic of football. He was a Vikings fan, and I let him know how stupid I thought that choice was ('da Bears!). We bantered back and forth about how terrible the other person's coach, record, players etc. were and laughed at the witty insults we came up with.
Afterwards, other volunteers were curious about our conversation, but I had no wise insight to share. I simply insulted his favorite football team and he came alive. I didn't understand it then, but I think I do now. We had a conversation like I would have had with anyone. In other words, we were on the same level--it wasn't a homeless man talking to a soup kitchen volunteer, it was two people having an everyday conversation.
It wasn't the insults that made him spark to life, it was being treated as an equal that did.
I thought of this interaction when I read about Massimo Bottura feeding homeless men food left over from Olympians' dinner. Bottura said that he wanted to "rebuild the dignity of the people." That in itself is an incredible story.
But what stands out to me most is the effect it had on at least one man: "Just sitting here, treated with respect on an equal footing, makes me think I have a chance," said Valdimir Faria. It makes sense. If people are treated like second-class citizens, they will see themselves as second-class citizens, and that impacts the decisions they make. It humbles me.
Even if I gave all of my clothes and money to the poor, but did it out of pity or a feeling of superiority, it wouldn't be enough. The food feeds the body, but dignity feeds the soul--and it will last much, much longer than one meal.
I'm ashamed to say I haven't served at a soup kitchen since. I want to do better. And now that football season is here, I just may need to go insult a Vikings fan, who happens to be homeless.