CRUSH Your Comfort Zone!

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin

“I’m James.”

Have you ever had one of those moments when the universe just seems to make perfect sense? I had one recently, and the entire encounter took eight seconds.


And, it changed my day completely. Maybe my week. Quite possibly much of my outlook overall. Around here, we call these moments, “Jerry Herships moments” (but I get ahead of myself; I’ll share more about “Jerry” moments later…).

AfterHours Denver © 2009 Kokoro Photography

Jerry Herships, Civic Center Park, Denver, CO © 2009 Kokoro Photography

Anyway, back to the story.

At a business-related staff meeting, someone brought breakfast burritos — these things are food from the Gods I’m convinced. There’s nothing healthy about one of them, but they are LONG on deliciousness.

However, I’d had breakfast, and wasn’t really hungry. As such, I wasn’t sure I even wanted one. But, as the meeting was ending, someone offered one to me “to go” (or “takeaway” for our friends in England), and I relented.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the thing. Mouth watering. But, I didn’t eat it — as I was needing to hustle to my next meeting which was about a 10 minute drive away.

As the minutes passed, the smell of the burrito became more and more intoxicating. Pork green chili, chorizo (mexican sausage), home fried potatoes, cheese — get the picture? It was nearly all I could do to not rip open the foil and devour it between stoplights. But, I kept both hands on the wheel until I parked my car.

(Voice in my head) “You’ve got a couple minutes — scarf the thing down!” (Other voice in my head) “It’s got a TON of calories, and you’re not hungry… You don’t ‘need’ this.”

Then, two choices offered themselves. One? Leave it in the car, and have it for lunch.

And then there was the other choice.

That’s the one I made, and that’s where the Jerry Herships moment comes in.

I knew the five minute walk from the parking lot to my meeting would take me through “Civic Center Park” — it’s kind of Denver’s version of the Washington DC Mall (okay, so you have to squint a little, but there’s “some” resemblance!). State Capitol building on one end, City and County of Denver building on the other, Greek Theatre in between, and dozens of homeless persons everywhere.

I saw their faces in my mind, and that’s when I decided I would give my burrito to one of them.

This decision would be a BIG step out of my comfort zone.

But, the image of Jerry Herships flooded my mind. Jerry is a preacher — who used to be a stand-up comedian and game show host. He’s in his 40s, and he’s see a little bit of life. He also has a BIG vision of what it means to serve others. His view of what to do on Christmas Eve? Hold communion at 2AM. Christmas Day? Give away socks, underwear, sleeping bags, water bottles, and food in Civic Center Park.

What about the rest of the year? Oh, Jerry’s managed to enlist an ARMY of volunteers from across the city to share lunches EVERY day at the park (and other stuff too), but most importantly he shares conversation, support and unconditional love to a group of people who are invisible (at least) to others, or are pariahs to society (at worst). Jerry is one of my heros.

Now — for Jerry, the thought of giving away a burrito might be a simple thing — for me? Not so much.

I have been walking through Civic Center Park for months now, absorbing the conflicting images of nature’s beauty, the awesome architecture of Denver’s public buildings — as well as the desperation, fear, pain and hopelessness in the homeless community. But, I had been an observer — a spectator, just a witness but not a participant.

Until this day.

As I got out of my car I said to myself, “I have no idea who I will give this to, but I’ll allow the right person to come forward.” And he did.

About two minutes into my walk, I was faced with the dirtiest, scruffiest, messiest, smelliest homeless person you can imagine. He was about 6’2″, dreadlocks that hadn’t been washed in months, wearing greasy clothing that reflected the sun. His skin was caked with dirt and grime, his hands were gloved with filth, and his nose was running green.

I let him walk by me.

But, a voice in my head said, “That’s him.” I listened.

I turned around — and went to find him. By the time I did, he was head-first into a trash can — searching for anything of value. I put my hand on his shoulder, and he turned to face me — defensively, frightened to have been disturbed.

One second, two seconds.

He stood to his full height; his eyes glanced in my direction, but didn’t linger. Without thinking, without worry or concern, I asked him, “Have you had breakfast?” He shook his head no. I placed the burrito in his hands.

Three, four.

I asked him, “What’s your name?”

“I’m James,” he said — standing even taller, and smiling because someone asked him this simple — yet transformational — question.

Five, six.

I said, “I’m Bob. I hope you enjoy breakfast.” I smiled. He smiled, and he turned away.

Seven, eight seconds.

That’s all it took for me to CRUSH my comfort zone, and to realize that while I’d given James the gift of food, the most important gift I gave him was the gift of recognition. Of belonging — even for a few seconds. However, the gift he gave me — well, that will be with me forever. He reminded me of my humanity by allowing me to remind him of his.

I had goosebumps for a good five minutes — all the way to my next meeting. And I had a chance to reflect on just how lucky I am — and how many things about which I can feel thankful.

And I still smile when I see his smile in my mind. “I’m James.”

Yes, yes you are.

There’s another lesson I re-learned that day. Do you want to feel better about yourself? Do something nice for someone else. Do you want to feel great about yourself? Do something amazing for someone else. It’s that simple — and that difficult.

CRUSH your comfort zones. Someone named James (or William, or Joan, or…) out there needs you to do that.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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