How a McDonald's Hamburger Changed My Life

February 13, 2008
It was one of those car trips where staring out the window and watching cars, buildings, and an unexplainable amount of cornfields go by is the most entertaining thing to do. I was counting down the hours and minutes left until we reached my Grandma’s house. One hour and thirty minutes was left and everyone in the car was getting hungry. My mom suggested McDonald’s, which was widely accepted by my brother, my friend and me.
We took our exit and could see McDonald’s trademark golden arches. The only thing between us and lunch was a line of cars and a stop sign. The only thing between our car and the stop sign was a haggard old man with a dirty tan backpack. He was obviously homeless and jobless by the look of his worn out plaid flannel jacket and grimy jeans. He was also razor-less, seeing as his tangled beard hung down below his shoulders. His eyes were sad from seeing his dreams fail. He seemed hopeless and helpless in his current state.
What was more interesting was the affect he had on the people in their vehicles. There is something about seeing those that are less fortunate that makes people uncomfortable. They purposely were looking the opposite way and were trying desperately not to make eye contact. He was looking right at them though. His sad gaze was unwavering as his eyes pleaded for spare nickels and dimes.
Our red Explorer was inching closer to the intersection and I couldn’t help but to look. My mom saw me staring at him and said “Isn’t that sad?” The rest of us nodded.
All of a sudden I was hit with an idea. “Hey Mom…Can we give him some money? Just a dollar or two would be ok.” I asked trying to give my best puppy dog face. It didn’t work.
“No way, for all we know he could use it to buy drugs or alcohol.” She said sadly. I could tell that she wanted to help too, but was worried about what he would do with the money.
As we drove away I couldn’t help but to think about the homeless man. How could this happen to someone? Where is he from? Does he have a family? Has he always been like this? I was imagining all the ways that someone could possibly become homeless. How scary it must be to wake up in the morning and not know where you were going to sleep or if you were going to have money for necessities like food and water.
I was still thinking about the homeless man as we pulled into the McDonald’s drive-thru. As my mom was ordering our meals I was hit with another idea. “Mom, get an extra burger.” I said. She looked at me kind of strange because I have never been a fan of McDonald’s hamburgers, but then she understood what I was thinking. She frowned and gave me “the look”, the one that says “I’m tired of talking about this.” It was a surprise when I heard her order it.
We paid the cashier and collected our food, but suddenly I was too excited to eat. Then we took an exit and drove back to where the man was sitting. He looked exactly the same as when we had left. He hadn’t moved an inch and didn’t look like he was in a hurry to do so. My mom rolled down her window and handed the man a McDonald’s bag containing a burger and fries. He scurried over to the window and said “God bless you all!” in the most gracious voice I have ever heard. We smiled at him and for the first time I felt that I had made a difference in a stranger’s life.
It is amazing how easy it is to help someone who is in need, yet most of us choose not to. There are so many people out there who could use a helping hand or a kind gesture. Something as simple as saying hi to a lonely stranger could instantly brighten their day. If everyone could be more giving and generous many people in the world would be much happier. As Gandhi said “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”
Sometimes I wonder what happened to that man. Maybe the food we gave to him gave him strength to find a job. Maybe now he is back on his feet. Maybe now he is a successful business person who lives in a huge mansion. Although I will never know what happened to him, I hope he knows that he helped me become a better person just as much as I helped him satisfy his hunger.

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