Since last Sunday marked the 1-year anniversary of those awful attacks in Paris, I thought I’d share a small personal story with you. It’s about something that I did on that very night, November 13, 2015, and I think it’s worth sharing.
When the first shots rang out that night, I was in a movie. My girlfriend and I had gone to see Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man” here in Hamburg. The attacks in Paris began around 9:20 p.m. and by that time the movie was about a quarter of the way through.
However, that I can remember exactly where I was when the attacks began is not of any interest. What’s interesting is something that happened before the movie began. That’s what I’d like to talk about.
See, the movie was to start at 8:45 p.m. at the Abaton Theater, which is an independent theater that often plays films in English. The Abaton is located in the Grindel, an area in Hamburg that has nice treelined streets and "altbau" apartments and used to be home to many of the city’s Jews.
Anyway, I arrived at the Abaton early that night, around 8 p.m., which was fine. But what wasn’t cool was that after I paid for the tickets, I noticed I had almost no cash left. I decided to go to the bank, about four blocks away.
It was November, so it was already dark and I remember that the night was cold. I walked the blocks, passing a few small pubs, Middle Eastern eateries and a small independent bookstore among other establishments.
At one point, I came to an area where the sidewalk was very dark, probably because there was scaffolding present. As I was walking by this area, I noticed that to my left there was a homeless person sort of cuddled up against the façade of a building. This person had many blankets on his lap and over his legs and he was just sitting there.
As I passed this person, I felt bad for him. Here was this guy, just sitting there out in the cold and here I was, on my way to a Deutsche Bank to get money because I wanted snacks for the movie.
I felt like I had to do something. I told myself that I would give the guy a little money on the way back. So after I made my withdrawal and started on my return to the theater, I got my wallet out. But just as I did, something strange happened. I decided I wouldn’t just give the guy 50 cents, which was the sum I had planned on giving him. Instead, I would give him five euros.
Now, over the years, I have given people on the street money. It’s usually never more than one euro or one dollar. Maybe there was one time that I gave a person more. But not usually. But for some reason, on this night, I spontaneously decided to give this guy five euros. Something inside me just told me to.
I think the guy said thank you after I deposited the bill in his cup, but I’m not even sure.
Anyway, I went on to see the movie, which was pretty funny, and only learned about the attacks after I got home and turned on my computer. By then, though, it was all over. I think my girlfriend and I stayed up late that night talking about terrorism.
Whatever the case, one thing is for sure. I’m glad that I committed an act of kindness just a few minutes – or half an hour, an hour, whatever it was – before those attacks occurred.
I’m not even exactly sure why I’m glad I committed an act of kindness right before the attacks; I just kind of am. I guess it shows that even though there were people in the world harboring hatred in their hearts that night, there were also people who were filled with feelings of goodwill.