Denver Man. A homeless person whose name I wish I knew. For me, he will always be my Denver Man.

It begins with a few synchronicities. First, my son moved to Denver. At the same time I was reading a book written by Pam Grout who suggested how rewarding it can be to secretly leave money in public places for others to find. Then, my son took me to the 16th Street Mall in Denver – where every other person was homeless and begging for a handout.

On my next visit to Denver, it was a beautiful, sunny day and I had the afternoon to myself. I brought along a pocket full of $5 bills and headed to 16th Street. I was gonna be “generous lady” walking down the street handing out money (oy, what an ego trip). I arrived to find not a single homeless person in sight. Nobody begging for money. What was going on? How can I be the generous lady with no beggars?

I stopped to treat myself to an ice cream cone – and had a shift in thinking. A small, but important shift. It suddenly hit me that I really wanted to help someone. Forget my pocketful of fives, if I could just help one person today, I’d be happy.

And then there he was. Denver Man.

He was a young man, in his late 20s. He was wearing a green army jacket and jeans so dirty they could stand up on their own. His dreadlocks were, uh, dreadful. And he was smelly. Stepping into my path he said “ma’am do you have some change?”

I handed him a $5 bill.

He stared at it like he’d never seen one before.

And he started to cry…

He tried to stammer a thank you, but couldn’t. He grabbed me in a giant, smelly, bear hug. My measly little $5 bill meant that much to him? By then he found his words, told me I made his day and we went our separate ways.

The entire encounter took less than 60 seconds, but someone’s life was changed forever – mine. As I walked away, it began to sink in just how important small acts of kindness and generosity can be.

There are no words to express the gift Denver Man gave me, far greater than any $5 bill. He opened my heart and soul and I would like him to know that he made me a better person (I hope). As silly as it sounds, I still walk down 16th Street hoping I’ll see him again.

Some nights when I have trouble falling asleep, I think of Denver Man and the hug and the $5 bill and my heart swells with gratitude.  

I hope today you take a moment to be happy. Share a small act of kindness if you can. Be generous for the heck of it. Maybe hug a stranger, even if he smells.