a bottle of wine [99/365]

Many years ago now, I worked at a big hospital up north in Sweden. With the bus rides included, my work days were long. During the winter period, you don’t get too many hours of daylight there — it was pitch dark when I left in the morning, and dark when I got home.

Vasaplan, Umeå (2015) 03I had to transfer downtown … there was this big square, like a hub for the buses. One late afternoon, I was standing there, waiting, in darkness and sleet, the ever present, nippy wind was blowing … the grey mass of people I didn’t know, kept moving. It certainly didn’t look as nice as it does in this picture I borrowed from Wikipedia.

A little, old boozer approached me. I knew he was a boozer, because when you’re living in Sweden you just know these things.  They are always visible there, not like here, where I don’t know where they’re hiding. They hang around public areas, often close to the liquor store, most of the time they don’t do any harm — they’re just a sad bunch.

Now, this scruffy little, old man — hard to tell if he really was all that old, they age prematurely with that type of lifestyle — he asked me if I happened to have any spare change. I wasn’t in the best of moods, I’d just been standing there, wondering what on earth I was doing in this place, where I felt I didn’t belong. So I asked the guy what he was going to use this change for, if I happened to have any. He said he’d go to the nearby liquor store and buy a bottle of beer. I appreciated his honesty — many would have made up a story about paying for the bus or something like that. He showed me  the few coins he already had — not enough for one bottle of beer!

I had a 50 Swedish Crowns bill in my pocket, and to this day I don’t know what possessed me to do this (bear in mind this was long time ago, today 50 SEK = $6): I said to the man, “I’ll give you this and you go and buy yourself a bottle of wine instead, that will keep you going much longer than a stupid beer!” Now I can almost hear many people saying, “why didn’t you bring him to a food joint and made him have something to eat instead?” Yes, I could have done that, and the hunt for change would have continued afterwards. But I tell you … just seeing his toothless smile, and the way his eyes lit up, made it worth losing fifty crowns. Obviously, I still remember it, and vividly too. The scruffy looking, little boozer got a few more hours of relief. He is probably long gone, and I hope he’s resting in peace. You never know, perhaps he decided that that particular bottle of wine was his last, that he gave up drinking, went in to the hospital for detox, straightened up his life and became a productive citizen. I doubt it — he was too far gone — but miracles do happen.

25 Replies to “a bottle of wine [99/365]”

  1. Awe, this is a deeply moving story – and I’m not easily moved. I admire it that both of you were honest with each other. Sure, the standard charitable response would be to give the homeless drunkard food, but I doubt he’d be as grateful. I don’t believe there is any point in pretending – when you’re a boozer, you want booze, and it was decent of the man to admit it. Your response is the best part, of course. It was not charitable in the sentimental sense, it was thoroughly practical and generous. It takes more than just compassion to give someone money without deceiving yourself or anyone else as to what the person will use it for.

    1. Thank you, Mara. Yes, a few hours of relief for those $6 that didn’t really matter all that much to me. Hope he found a warm place to drink it in 🙂

  2. Wow, you are very kind Rebekah. My having had issues with the stuff, you made the right choice. I hope he did give up the bottle. Nothing happens without a reason in this universe. You may well have been the turnkey.

      1. I had to take down my Contact page this morning! Looking online, I found no solid solution for WP.com contact forms to stop the spam. It was flowing in every few minutes. No thanks.

  3. I don’t know why exactly, but this story really made me smile. “Buy a bottle of wine, it will last longer!!” That was inspired brilliance and it was a kind gesture that likely made his day. Everyone deserves those kind of days – even an old boozer 🙂

  4. You gave him a bit of your time – and maybe your honesty sparked something with him.

    When I lived in Jerusalem, everyone kept an amount in their pocket to hand out during the day, trying not to judge or spend some impossible amount of time deciding who was worthy. Just keep the circle turning, don’t be disdainful or superior or – worst of all – thoughtless.

  5. I appreciate how honest this story is. We have quite a few people of questionable means (for lack of a better summary term) here in Phoenix (as climates go, it could definitely be worse) and I always find myself somewhat more charitable to the ones who are blunt about it. Sometimes the best you can do is give someone the means to make themselves happy (whatever that entails) without judgment.

  6. A touching story. He was honest & so were you…
    And who knows what happened after that…maybe the man did find recovery. Or maybe he enjoyed the bottle of wine & decided to drink that instead of beer…..
    Whatever the outcome, you did something kind for this man….

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