Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

The Story of Steve – A Personal Tale of Gratitude

Since joining the TweetsGiving community a few weeks ago, I’ve been trying to figure out what I should write about as an expression of personal gratitude. Naturally, my first idea was to write a piece about my wife and kids, of how they’ve been a wonderful source of love, happiness and sense of inner peace. I also thought of writing about all the other people who have helped to shape the course my life has been taking so far.

After giving this some thought, I decided I wanted to share a personal story about someone I met many years ago while attending university. His name was Steve and he wasn’t another student, nor was he one of my professors. Instead, Steve was a homeless man, spending most of his days hanging out on this short platform wall asking the passersby for some spare change. More importantly, Steve is someone I grew to care about and who to this day, has had a lasting impact on my life.

I was in the first year of my undergraduate studies at one of the city’s downtown university campuses when I met Steve. I saw him for the first time on one of my walking commutes, going from a class in one building to a class in another. From afar, he appeared to be just another homeless person, a sad reminder of those who fell through society’s cracks. And yet, as I got closer, he greeted me with this surprisingly warm smile and in a friendly tone asked me if I had any change to spare. As a student, money was a limited resource, with what little left from buying text books and lab supplies being reserved for pizza and tea (yes, I drank tea back then).

When I politely told him I didn’t have any change to give, he once again did something surprising – he shrugged his shoulders and, still wearing that warm smile, told me that it was alright and wished me a good day. I continued on my way to class, but I found my mind wandering back to this man I had just met on the street. I couldn’t get the image of this kind, friendly face out of my head, let alone reconcile his good-natured attitude with the fact that he was homeless.

Over the coming weeks as I walked down the street past Steve, he’d greet me with that warm smile of his, always wishing me a nice day even though I had no money to give him. On some occasions, he’d even make a brief query about my classes, noting the obviously growing weight of my knapsack. The situation left me confused as, on the one hand, I felt awkward and a bit embarrassed that this homeless man was talking to me. At the same time, though, I found myself being drawn to his friendly, easy-going charm, if not curious as to how he could be so good-natured given his terrible circumstances.

So, one day I decided to forgo that cup of tea for class and give that money to Steve. As I walked toward him, I could see Steve asking people for change, smiling and wishing them a good day whether they gave him some money or not. When I reached him and he asked me if I had some change to spare, I stopped right next to him and told him yes I did. As he graciously accepted the change I offered, we got to talking a little bit and I ended up lingering about for a little longer than I had anticipated. As I left to head off to my class, I found myself feeling a little lighter in my step, though not just because I had fewer coins jingling around in my jeans pocket.

After a few weeks of giving Steve my spare change and stopping briefly for a short chat, I wanted to get to know him better, to know his name and even have him know mine. In my eyes, he was no longer some homeless person living on the streets; this was someone I wanted to know as a friend. So on one of those occasions where I stopped to give him some change and have a short conversation, I told him ‘By the way, my name is Tanveer’ to which he replied that his name was Steve.

From that point on, I stopped by not only to give some of my money to Steve, but also to spend time with him, sharing stories of what was going on in school and in my life. Our conversations soon became full of laughter and smiles, sounding very much like two friends chatting up a storm on the city sidewalk. I was no longer feeling apprehensive or awkward about being seen with this homeless man. In fact, I began to appreciate the humorous sight Steve and I must have made, of this young university student joking around and laughing with this middle-aged homeless man.

But that was the kind of interactions Steve inspired in others. Indeed, the longer I spent talking with him on that sidewalk stretch, the more I saw that there were other people who called out to him by name. Each time, there were smiles gracing their face at the sight of Steve, and the passing of spare change looked more like a welcome handshake between friends than a simple handout to someone in need.

I began to realize how fortunate I was to know Steve, to appreciate what a warm soul he was. In fact at one point, he even refused to take any more money from me, insisting that as a student, I’d need it to pay for all those books and stuff. Imagine – here’s someone who lives on the street, has no money for food and yet is willingly turning down accepting money from me because he now saw me as his friend. That was the kind of person I saw in Steve.

Then one day when I was walking to campus, I reached the short platform wall where Steve hung out, but he wasn’t there. As there had been other times where he was absent, I thought nothing of it. But as the days passed with Steve no where in sight, I began to worry about what this might mean, and of where he could be. After several weeks had passed, there was no denying the truth.

Steve was gone.

I tried to imagine that maybe he found some way to get off the streets and was now living in more comfortable surroundings. But the simple truth is such endings only happen at the end of movies. Over the following months, I passed by his spot remembering that warm smile and the person behind it, feeling sad and frustrated that I couldn’t share this loss with those around me. After all, how could others understand feeling genuine sorrow over the loss of someone who lived on the streets, unless they were willing to accept that we could care or be friends with the homeless.

To this day, I don’t know what happened to Steve. But I’ve never forgotten him or what being his friend has taught me about life. Despite the reality of his situation, he never lost his kindness, his sense of dignity, or the ability to find joy in the simple act of being alive.

And so, I’m grateful that I had the chance to know someone like Steve, that I could welcome him into my life as a friend and learn through him the real value of being alive.

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This post was created as part of a global groundswell of gratitude called TweetsGiving. The celebration, created by US nonprofit Epic Change, is an experiment in social innovation that seeks to change the world through the power of gratitude. I hope you’ll visit the TweetsGiving site to learn more, and to bring your grateful heart to the party by sharing your gratitude, and giving in honor of that for which you’re most thankful.

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6 Comments
  1. On November 24th, 2009 at 3:25 PM Xurxo Vidal said:

    It always amazes me how little it can take to bring a smile to our face or someone else’s. Sometimes a little time and attention is all that’s needed and goes so much further than material things.

    This serves as a great reminder that the human connection and giving one’s attention can make a huge difference in our lives and the lives of those around us.

    Thanks for sharing this personal story.

  2. On November 24th, 2009 at 4:30 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Xurxo, for sharing your thoughts on this story.

    You’re absolutely right that we tend to forget that sometimes the biggest impacts are not felt by those grand gestures, but in those small ones. I suppose that’s due in part to the fact that we tend to perform these small acts out of pure selflessness, not realizing the impact it can have on the recipient . . . or on us.

    I’m glad you enjoyed this story of Steve. I like to think that where ever he is now, he’s wearing a bigger version of the smile I remember, knowing that after all these years, his kindness has not been forgotten.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Xurxo. It’s much appreciated.

  3. On November 24th, 2009 at 6:59 PM Tele Raack said:

    I am so touched by your story Tanveer. I once met a “Steve” and it had a very profound impact on me. Here is a link to my experience. ~Tele

  4. On November 24th, 2009 at 9:11 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thank you, Tele. It’s nice to hear that others are touched by the experience and memories I have of Steve. It’d be nice if all of us could have a “Steve” in our life at one point or another, to help remind us about how precious life is and how not to waste it.

    Thanks for sharing your story of a similar encounter. Hopefully by sharing these stories we can inspire others to reach out and lend a helping hand, if not a gesture of kindness, to those who need it most.

    Thanks again, Tele, for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  5. On November 30th, 2009 at 12:03 AM Ching Ya said:

    As a supporter of Tweetsgiving, I’m really glad you shared this beautiful story with your readers. It’s a whole new perspective about how we appreciate someone who’s not within our social network at first. Steve has been generous too by sharing his warm greetings and smile to passerby. I think it’s very thoughtful of you to share a bit of change with him occasionally and even the courtesy to talk with him.

    I’m thankful to have read this story. Well done Tanveer.

    @wchingya
    Social/Blogging Tracker

  6. On November 30th, 2009 at 11:49 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Ching for your comment. You’re right that we do tend to be unappreciative at times of those who are outside our sphere or social status. Hopefully, in sharing this story, we can remember that in the end, we’re all human and deserving of the same level of respect and kindness, irrespective of our station in life.

    Thanks again Ching, for taking the time to share your thoughts on this piece.