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He reached out, unfurled his hand, and looked up at me with what can only be described as a look of pure desperation. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a crumpled five-dollar bill and handed it to the man. “It’s a cold one,” I remarked. “God bless,” replied the man, shivering in his beat-up brown jacket and even shoddier pants. “That jacket can’t be keeping him warm,” I thought. Not saying anything more, I rejoined my friend Patrick and we continued on towards the Washington Wizards arena.
After watching the Wizards lose a close game to the Hawks, Patrick and I left the Verizon Center in a mass of disappointed fans, talking as optimistically as we could about John Wall and the Wizards’ promising future. We followed the masses, absent-mindedly strolling farther and farther away from where we actually had to go. As the swarm of people began to thin out, my friend and I realized that we had taken a wrong turn somewhere. We had to return to the station we had come from, since we were almost out of money and had just enough fare on our metro tickets to get back to Vienna, Virginia; I looked up directions on my phone. Twenty minutes away. We began walking. Passing the Verizon Center a second time, we decided to cut across a parking lot to get to our destination quicker.
While walking through the dark, nearly empty lot, we saw a man flanking us, his hand in his jacket pocket. Patrick and I quickly locked eyes and silently acknowledged each other’s fear of what could happen. Fifteen feet away and still shadowing us, the man pulled a knife out of his jacket pocket. We turned, paralyzed like two deer in the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler. Approaching us still, knife pointed in our direction, the man said nothing. Everything seemed to stop, and as the man walked under the beam of one of the few parking lot lights, only a few feet away, our eyes met. He tucked the knife back into his jacket pocket, turned, and ran away into the night. Patrick and I stood still in silent shock. Seconds later, my mind reeling, I realized that the man’s jacket was the same kind of worn brown jacket I had seen on the homeless man earlier — no, it was him, I was positive. Patrick and I embraced each other, stunned, exhausted, saying nothing. Wanting only to get home, we jogged towards our destination. I never said anything to Patrick about our assailant. We just sat on the metro, thankful to be alive.
For weeks, I constantly thought about the night: how lucky I was, how unfortunate the man had looked, how bad he must have needed money, and how the hotdog money I had given him may well have saved my life. I was born into a life of comfort, one in which I would never have to panhandle and struggle and sink into desperation just to get by and live another day. Many of the people in the world are not this fortunate: whether they rely on multinational charities or the alms of strangers outside a stadium, they depend on factors beyond themselves for their sustenance. My purpose in life is to serve others and to give them what they would otherwise not have. I know what I want my life to amount to — making the lives of others better, helping them, doing my part to make the world a better place. I was set in this purpose before that night: now I know that saving the less fortunate is a way of saving us all.