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A few weeks ago I was on my way to work in downtown Los Angeles. As I walked from the train station to my office, I went into the local convenience store to get my morning cup of coffee. The store is on 7th and Flower in the heart of Los Angeles’ Business District which is also an area where homeless people sleep in the corridors and on the sidewalks. Some sleep in cardboard boxes some sleep on grids to stay warm. It is a world of the prosperous, affluent, business-minded and youthful jutted against the poor, broken, mentally-ill and hopelessness of our communities.

Many of the downtown residents and professionals buy cups of coffee, donuts, even newspapers for the homeless people they pass. Just as many pass them as if they were an inanimate object.

…getting back to my story…I went in the store to buy my coffee. There was a man who appeared to be homeless (the signs are a lot of clothing, unshaven, pulling an old suitcase, unkempt). He stepped aside so that I could get my coffee. I said “Thank you sir, but you were here first.” He said no, he wanted me to go ahead of him.  I told him that I was buying his coffee and his breakfast this morning. He laughed and said, “No, I am buying your coffee.” Both of us laughed at the notion.

We went to the checkstand together and I told the clerk to ring up both coffees and the breakfast sandwich that the man wanted. The man pushed aside my card and gave the clerk a $10.00 bill and said, “I am paying.” I protested to the man who I thought was homeless. I said sir, “No, please let me buy your breakfast.”  With tears in his eyes, he said to me, “Please let me have the dignity of being a gentleman. It has been a long time that I have been able to buy something for a lovely lady.” I said, “Thank you, sir, for the coffee and the lesson.”

I will never forget this lesson. Dignity is the extraordinary treasure that can come even in the form of a cup of coffee.

We must never fail to recognize the humanity of others. We must never fail to give the simple gift of recognizing the value in the dignity of another human being

by
Capt. CH (CA) Brenda Threatt

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