Motivational Story of the Week
What would you do if you wanted to make a difference in the world,
leave a mark or put a deposit on a ticket into heaven? Would you think
big and pick the flashiest or most grandiose of acts? Or would you
quietly persevere every day, doing one personal deed at a time?
The Sandwich Man
Michael Christiano, a New York City court officer, rises every morning at 4
a.m., in good and bad weather, workday or holiday, and walks into his
sandwich shop. No, he doesn't own a deli, it's really his personal kitchen.
In it are the fixings of his famous sandwiches, famous only to those who
desperately need them to stave off hunger for the day. By 5:50 a.m., he's
making the rounds of the makeshift homeless shelters on Centre and Lafayette
Streets, near New York's City Hall. In a short time, he gives out 200
sandwiches to as many homeless people as he can, before beginning his work
day in the courthouse.
It started 20 years ago with a cup of coffee and a roll for a homeless man
named John. Day after day, Michael brought John sandwiches, tea, clothes,
and when it was really cold, a resting place in his car while he worked. In
the beginning, Michael just wanted to do a good deed. But one day a voice in
his head compelled him to do more.
On this cold, winter morning, he asked John if he would like to get cleaned
up. It was an empty offer, because Michael was sure John would refuse.
Unexpectedly, John said, "Are you gonna wash me?"
Michael heard an inner voice say, 'Put your money where your mouth is.'
Looking at this poor man, covered in ragged and smelly clothes, unkempt,
hairy and wild looking, Michael was afraid. But he also knew that he was
looking at a big test of his commitment. So he helped John upstairs to the
locker room of the courthouse to begin the work. John's body was a mass of
cuts and sores, the result of years of pain and neglect. His right hand had
been amputated, and Michael pushed through his own fears and revulsion. He
helped John wash, cut his hair, shaved him and shared breakfast with him.
"It was at that moment," Michael remembers, "that I knew I had a calling, and
I believed that I had it within me to do anything."
With the idea for his sandwiches born, Michael began his calling. He
receives no corporate sponsorship, saying, "I'm not looking for an act of
charity that goes in the record books or gets media attention. I just want
to do good, day by day, in my small way. Sometimes it comes out of my
pocket, sometimes I get help. But this is really something that I can do,
one day and one person at a time. "There are days when it's snowing," he
says, "and I have a hard time leaving my warm bed and the comfort of my
family to go downtown with sandwiches. But then that voice in me starts
chattering, and I get to it."
And get to it he does. Michael has made 200 sandwiches every day for the
past 20 years. "When I give out sandwiches," Michael explains, "I don't
simply lay them on a table for folks to pick up. I look everyone in the eye,
shake their hands, and I offer them my wishes for a good and hopeful day.
Each person is important to me. I don't see them as 'the homeless,' but as
people who need food, an encouraging smile and some positive human contact.
"Once Mayor Koch turned up to make the rounds with me. He didn't invite the
media, it was just us," says Michael. But of all Michael's memories, working
side by side with the Mayor was not as important as working next to someone
A man had disappeared from the ranks of the sandwich takers, and Michael
thought about him from time to time. He hoped the man had moved on to more
comfortable conditions. One day, the man showed up, transformed, greeting
Michael clean, warmly clothed, shaven and carrying sandwiches of his own to
hand out. Michael's daily dose of fresh food, warm handshakes, eye contact
and well wishes had given this man the hope and encouragement he so
desperately needed. Being seen every day as a person, not as a category, had
turned this man's life around.
The moment needed no dialogue. The two men worked silently, side by side,
handing out their sandwiches. It was another day on the streets of New York,
but a day with just a little more hope.
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