Jake’s morning began similar to others before. Always waking up at 6 am. Workday, or off day. It was just ingrained, 6 am like clockwork. No matter how hard he tried, forcing his eyes closed as hard as he could, laying still in bed. Nothing worked; none of the tips and tricks the internet suggested helped. He just woke up. Guess it was something to be said about routine or just the inability to sleep.

Despite it being too early to do anything fun or exciting, Jake still got up and readied himself for a relaxing day off. As he finished getting dressed, Otis, his playful boxer, burst into the room, making a beeline straight for Jake like two lovers at an airport.

It was petting time. “Oh, hey, there you are; where have you been?” Jake asked, grabbing the rope they play tug o’ war with, battling to see who would win. Of course, he always lets Otis come out victorious.

     After ‘losing’ another battle, it was time to watch a few shows from last night. With Otis lying at the foot of the couch, relishing his victory, chomping on a bone. A nice treat for remaining undefeated. Turning off the TV, it was on to the next part of the day. Time for an all to necessary food run. After all, he and Otis would need to eat something for the coming week. 

Stepping outside, the cool, frigid morning air smacked Jake across the face, his cheeks rosied from the beating they’d just taken at the merciless hands of the wind. It was a brisk morning; the wind swept over his body, continuing its violent assault on everything else around. Battering the treetops, bending some nearly to their breaking point. It was unusually cold for this time of year. The wintery weather had shown up a few weeks earlier than expected and much colder.

Jake fought his way through the harrowing conditions, scrunching his body. Providing less of a target mass for the wind to batter, rubbing his arms. It might be time to purchase a new sweater while he was out, too, he thought. Approaching his car door, hands clasped together, blowing into them several times before retrieving the keys. Hurriedly unlocking it and climbing into the respite of his protected vehicle, turning it on. Cranking the heater, bringing it full bore. With the heat blowing through the vents, it was time to be on his way. Already dreading the moment, he would have to leave the warm, comfy confines.  

It was a quick 15-minute drive to the store, which was just enough time to get warmed up and ready to brave the weather all over again. Stopping at a red light waiting for it to turn green, he caught movement out of his peripheral vision; someone was outside. As crazy as that seemed. Glancing over, he spotted a homeless man lying down on a bus bench. It was one of those fancier ones, with a cover and glass sidings, to prevent at least some of the wind, but it was still cold outside, and there was no real protection from that.

The man lay wrapped up tightly as he could in several blankets. He had one hand poking out from underneath. Which had a string tied to it. The other end connected to a shopping cart. Containing what Jake assumed was the man’s worldly possessions. The light turned green, and Jake drove off before the person behind could honk. 

As he drove, a thought ran across his mind. How must it feel not to have a roof over your head and a warm house to sleep in, especially on such a chilly morning. A pang of sadness hit him, but it was only for a fleeting moment.

Over the course of the next week, Jake continued with his life like normal. He was not a particularly outgoing person, mainly keeping to himself; he’d come home from work, watch TV, and play video games. The bright spots of life were Otis and Stacy, his girlfriend. Jake and Stacy had been together for two years, and things had been going well-at least, from his perspective. So, it was a quiet, simple existence. Just the way Jake wanted it.

The following weekend he would make his typical run to the store. On the way, he was once again stopped at that same red light. While waiting for it to change, his eyes caught the homeless man on the bus bench. Jake thought, at least it’s not so cold today while watching the man rifle through his cart. The light changed; he drove off.

While at work one day, Jake got into a conversation with his friend Miguel. They discussed a recent hurricane’s damage to a nearby small town. Miguel talked about how their city had offered temporary shelter to the town’s residents while the damage was being assessed and repairs could be made. Another thought flashed through Jake’s mind. He couldn’t imagine what he would do if he’d lost everything he owned, all his worldly possessions.

Initially dismissing the conversation as passing time at work. However, later his curious mind would eventually circle back around on the drive home. Beginning to wonder how he could get involved and help. It wasn’t like they were half a world away, like in most cases when you hear about a disaster. No, they were practically in his backyard. Surely there was something he could do.

Racking his brain trying to figure out all the potential ways he could get involved. But, once through his front door and after absorbing a barrage of face licks courtesy of Otis. All those thoughts evaporated as he sunk into his chair for several hours of mind-numbing video gaming. At the end of the day, it didn’t really affect him in any way, so why bother.

Several weeks went by after Jake contemplated doing good deeds. Sticking with his same tried and true routine. Work all week, have some fun on the weekends, with the girlfriend and Otis, that was it. His simple happy, uncomplicated life. However, he did wind up keeping an eye on the hurricane story and what was happening. On occasion, his mind would drift back to wanting to help. Miguel had even talked about how he and his wife drove down and pitched in at a shelter one weekend. But once again, he would not act upon those thoughts, falling prey to his routines.

Although, some of those routines were becoming more of a chore. He and Stacy had started to argue, which they had never done before. She was getting on his case about being too lazy and not doing anything with his life. Shortly after one of their fights, Stacy stopped by and saw Jake had not cleaned the house. This was the last straw for her; she had blown up. Remembering the argument vividly.

“Jake, really, you seriously couldn’t clean up anything?” She huffed.

“I was going to do it after I finished this game, honestly.” Hurriedly starting to pick up the trash off the coffee table while she continued.

“You know what, Jake, this has been going on too long. I’ve been patient with you while you tried to figure out what you’re going to do with your life. You always talk about doing this or that but never do it. Instead, you just sit and play your games. Well, that’s it–I’m done.”

“Wait! What? Just, like, Stac, you’re done, out the door?” He couldn’t believe it, after two-plus years. 

“Yes. You want to keep the job you hate and do nothing but play games and watch TV. You’re not going amount to anything in life, just lying around. And I am not sticking around with a loser like that. I’ll be back tomorrow to get my things,” she turned, slamming the door shut behind her.

In a flash of an argument, Stacy walked out the door keeping true to her word, returning the next day, gathering her stuff, and that was the last time he saw her.

****

A couple weeks after the break-up, it was time for another shopping trip. The biting cold weather had reared its ugly head again on this trip. Another cold snap, according to the news, would last several days. And once again, on the way to the store, Jake stopped at that same traffic light. Glancing over, hoping Mr. Bus Bench wouldn’t still be there.

Alas, his hopes were dashed. There he was, lying on the bench huddled under 3 blankets. The light turned green, and he drove away with a sinking feeling in the pit in his stomach, shaking his head. Again, though, he did nothing to help.

****

At this point, Jake and Stacy have been broken up for a month, and he was not entirely over the whole thing. Her words about not doing anything with his life still ringing in his ears, stinging his soul. He would mull those words over in his head from time to time. Making him start to feel like he was simply going through the motions of life. Never achieving anything, but never trying to achieve anything either. Sure, he had plenty of free time, and things in his life were simple. Work, Otis, games. An easy existence, but was he genuinely doing anything with his life?   

While at work, he’d gotten into another conversation with Miguel. “Hey Jake, did you see the news about the earthquakes in Mexico?” Miguel asked.

“I saw that; what’s going on in this world?” Jake wondered. “I also saw those hurricane victims are still displaced. All those people are still homeless. This is messed up,” shaking his head. 

“Yeah, right. I wonder what else Mother Nature has in store for this world,” Miguel added. The conversation continued throughout the day.

Later, he began to have that notion of doing something to help the people instead of playing video games when he got home. He went online to research ways that he could get involved. Everything he found, though, would take time, which would affect how much time he had for himself. And none of them were simple or easy; each had its own set of complications and other sorts of things he didn’t really want to bother with. Letting another opportunity to help or do something with his life slip away.

One day after work, he was walking up to his apartment when he saw his neighbor looking panicked, her eyes growing wide with sorrow and fear as she ran up to him.

“Jake, thank god you’re home. I have…” she paused, lowering her eyes. “Um…I have some bad news.” 

“Ok, what is it? Did your boyfriend break up with you again for the third time this month?” Jake joked.

“No, but yeah, you’re right about Jason and me. But that’s not it. I…I am so sorry but, Otis ran off.”

“Whhhaaatttt?? Jake screamed, causing Jasmin to flinch and cower back. Years of abuse at Jason’s hands at work as she thought Jake would hit her. “No, I don’t believe you; he wouldn’t do that,” the news punching Jake in the stomach like an anvil being dropped on him. “How did that happen? How long ago? What direction did he run?” Quizzing the frightened woman.

“Well, I came over like I always do to walk him,” she explained. “I was briefly, only briefly distracted by Zoe,” another dog she walked. “pulling on her leash. I didn’t get a good grip on Otis’. He saw a cat and took off after it. I am so sorry, Jake, I didn’t mean-.”

“Wait.” Jake snapped, cutting her off. “So, he ran after a cat? What the hell, Jasmin. How long ago?”

“About three hours ago. I’ve been searching for him ever since. I haven’t been able to find him anywhere. Please, please don’t be mad at me.”

Seeing her fear at what he might do and the tears welling in her eyes, Jake calmed down. “Well, let’s try looking again and see if we can find him. If we don’t, I need you to help me make flyers to hand out.” Jasmin timidly nodded in agreement.

They re-searched the neighborhood for another few hours until it got dark, forcing them to abandon their hunt. The next day they placed fliers all over the community, hoping that someone would find dear Otis and return him.

****

Miguel approached Jake at work a few days later. “Dude, there you are. The boss was looking for you. He seemed pissed about something. He wants you in the office.”

“Alright, thanks.” Jake said, “I wonder what I did now?”

“Yeah, man, you don’t seem like yourself these last few weeks; everything ok?” Miguel asked.

“No, not really; Stacey left me. My dog walker Jasmin lost Otis, and I haven’t been able to find him. If that wasn’t enough,” Jake somberly continued. “Last week, I screwed up something major on a report that went to corporate.”

“Dude, that’s messed up,” Miguel responded.

“Yeah, I am starting to think I’m cursed. Well, time to go see the boss and get my ass-chewing.”

Which was precisely what happened. After having his dictator-like boss ream him for a while. Jake sulked back to his desk, replaying his conversation with Miguel about how nothing was going his way lately. Sure, he had a job, a place to live, family, and friends; he wasn’t poor, but not all that well off either. However, he still felt like nothing was his way either. He contemplated if he was really cursed or some awful person in a previous existence. Leaving him to wonder what his place in life really was.

Growing up had always felt that life had to have a purpose or meaning, and everyone themselves had a purpose or an objective they’re supposed to complete to make life meaningful. Was he just content with taking the easy track in life and nothing else? Was he meant to be an innocent bystander while everyone else around him did things with their life? He wanted to do something impactful in life.

He began searching the job boards and applying to anything that seemed interesting. While resuming his research into ways that he could make helping people a career and make enough money to live. He thought about going to the Peace Corps or joining the Red Cross and going abroad. As always, though, he never acted on any of these ideas. They didn’t feel like they would make an impact big enough for what he was searching for. They weren’t the easy world-altering impact he felt could be his purpose.

****

Then the day came that Jake had dreaded since his last meeting with the boss. He was fired due to his recent poor performance. Leaving work for the last time, initially feeling relief at being free from the place he hated. However, on the drive home, he was hit by a sense of panic. What am I going to do with my life now? He had never been fired before. It felt like his life was over at this point and that Stacy was right. He would never do anything worthwhile. Over the last couple of months, everything had unraveled. His girl was gone, his dog was gone, and he had now lost his job; he’d finally hit his lowest point.

The next day Jake dragged himself out of bed. He really needed to get another job or be homeless soon. Trudging himself to the refrigerator to make something for breakfast, realizing there was nothing there to eat. Well, it’s time to go shopping, possibly for the last time, he thought to himself.

Stopped once again at that same blasted red light on the way to the store. There again was that same homeless man on the bus bench. Looking over, he was suddenly overcome by a dreadful feeling. That man very well could be him soon, with no one to help him, just as he never helped anyone else.

Finishing his trip for what Jake figured could be the last time if he didn’t find a new job quickly. He headed out of the store. The second he walked outside, it began to pour. It was like a monsoon, just dumping buckets of rain. The wind had picked up, blowing so harshly that the droplets were piercing the air horizontally. Managing to make it to his car and frantically loading the grocery bags, it was time to head home get out of the hellish weather.

Pressed uptight against the steering wheel, squinting trying to make out the white lines in the road, as pales of water cascaded down. Thoughts began to circle in and around Jake’s head. “What am I really doing with my life? I could be doing so much more; I am a smart guy. I have skills and talents I could be putting to use. Money isn’t everything, right. There must be a way to contribute to this world that doesn’t include working for a major corrupt corporation that only cares about profits. This can’t be my purpose in life, just meandering through it, never doing anything important. I need to find my true place in this world. What do I have to lose at this point? How can I help and make an impact? I wanna change the world.” These and many other thoughts were zigzagging around on the neural pathways of his brain.

Driving past the bus bench, he glanced over to find the homeless man, doing the best he could to shield himself from the rain. As the light turned green, Jake set off. Suddenly every fiber of his being was enveloped with a sense of altruism towards this man. The very same human being he had seen in the same location for a couple of months, struggling through life, being beaten up by the elements. Yet never abandoning his bench. Jake quickly changed lanes, making a dangerous-especially in the conditions-U-turn, driving back to the bus bench. Pulling up beside it as close he could get, rolling down the passenger window.

“Sir,” he shouted, “my name is Jake. I don’t think you wanna be out in this rain any longer, do you?” The scraggy man shook his head, throwing droplets of rain from his waterlogged hair. “So get in, and let’s go somewhere dry and get a bite to eat.”

“Are…are you sure, Sir? I would be very thankful.” The man said, briefly taken aback by this sudden offer of generosity.

“Yeah, man, quick, get in, and let’s go,” Jake replied. Hesitantly, the man got in the car. “Well, you know my name, but I don’t know yours. Where’s your cart?”

“It’s dry. Oh, and I am John.” The man replied, shivering. Holding his hands to the vent, embracing the warmth.

“Well, John, it’s nice to meet you. I hope you don’t mind, but things are a little tight right now, so we’re going to stop over at this McDonald’s for that bite.”

“Sir, I honestly don’t care where we go. I haven’t eaten in a day, and I’m just glad to be out of the rain.”

They got to the restaurant, and Jake ordered them both a meal nestling into a booth where John would inexplicably begin to tell his story over breakfast. Jake sat on the edge of his seat, listening intently.

John was a military veteran who had done several tours in Afghanistan. His wife decided that she’d had enough of military life during his last go-around. While he was defending the country, he received divorce papers. He later discovered upon returning home. That she cleaned out all of their bank accounts and moved in with the man she had been seeing behind his back-his high school best friend.

 Worse, the day before he departed Afghanistan, his truck was struck by an IED. Causing him to lose most of his vision in his left eye and permanent nerve damage to his left arm, leading to a medical discharge. Afterward, with nowhere to turn and unable to find work. Life just led from one bad thing to another until he found himself broke and homeless.

Jake sat without saying a word. What could he say honestly? His life to this point paled in comparison to the man sitting across from him. Feeling sick to his stomach for having thought earlier that his life was sooo horrible. Upon hearing the tragic story, he had no idea what to do, but he felt a burning desire to help this man in some way, somehow, anyway he could.

“Wow, John, I don’t even know what to say.” Finally, finding the words.

“Tell you the truth, Jake, I have pretty much given up on life. After three tours of duty, I just don’t think I have any fight left in me for this world.” The veteran said, laying his head on the table.

“Man, you can’t give up; you have to push through. You’ve been through so much; that may be good things will happen to you now.” Jake, sensing that John could be possibly thinking about harming himself. There was no way he could let that happen.

“I don’t know…I just…don’t know if it’s worth it anymore.” John replied, gazing out the window with a thousand-yard stare.

He had to do something. He couldn’t let this hero give up on life. “Look, I can’t give you much, but I’ve got like fifty bucks on me, and I want you to have it.” Pulling out his wallet, rifling through it, he retrieved the money, pushing it across the table to the wounded man. “And at least let me take you to a community center, or even better, the VA can help.”

“No, I’m good,” John responded, somewhat offended. “I don’t need to have people looking at me with pity.” Refusing the money.

“No, no, I get it,” Jake said, feeling that John was about to get up and leave. He’d seen this type of defiance and proudness before. “I have a friend that was in the service, and I know you all don’t like asking for help, but sometimes that’s all we need is just a little help that can lead to hope and get you out of this.”

The veteran sat quietly pondering, finishing the last bite of hashbrown. “Ok. I’ll go,” he said, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

“Great,” Jake exclaimed, almost leaping from his seat. “And please, take this.” Offering the money again, to which John accepted.

Jake took him to the VA. Giving him his number, telling him to call anytime, for anything. He went home that night, feeling something he had never felt before. He felt whole, like he had finally done something that mattered—a sense of fulfillment, completeness. The next day he woke up with a new sense of energy for life. He investigated that community center he told John about and signed up to volunteer. He had suddenly found a lot of free time on his hands, so why not do something with it other than playing video games.

****

 Returning home one day from the center, Jasmine rushed over and told him that Otis had been found. They were bringing him over. Jake was so relieved he was getting his little buddy back.

The weeks would continue to pass as he spent most of his time now at the center doing his volunteer work while looking for jobs. He found that he loved it. He felt something different in his life. He had received a couple of job offers, eventually taking the one offering the least amount of money but leaving him the most time to continue volunteering. Jake was astonished by how things in his life had changed. Finding himself even in a new relationship with another volunteer.

Some more time passed with Jake settling into his new life of meaning when he received a phone call. “Jake, this is John. Do you remember me?”

“Yeah, man, of course, I do. How’s it going?” Jake replied, happy to hear he was still alive and hadn’t given up.

“Great, actually. Really, really good. I just wanted to give you a call and say thank you. You really helped me out and brought me back from the brink of doing something terrible. And I just wanted to let you know that I am doing much better now; I got a job and am getting a place to stay.” John informed him.

“Man, that’s great? I’m so happy things turned around for you. Good job.”

“Thanks. I wanted to ask you a question.”

“Sure, go ahead, anything.”

“I wanted to ask…why did you stop that day?”

Jake paused for a few moments before answering. “You know, to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure. All I know is that I had seen you out there almost every week, for a couple of months, and that day I felt the need to stop. That’s all I can tell you.”

“Well, I guess that’s a good enough reason for me. I just wondered. But again, thanks from the bottom of my heart. You helped save and change my life, and I will be forever thankful. Maybe one day we’ll get to hang out.”

“I’d like that man, I’d really like that,” Jake replied. The two hung up.

After the conversation, Jake replayed that day in his head. Wondering where that sudden urge to help came from. When he realized he’d been approaching life all wrong. He always felt like he had a purpose. He was meant to make an impact. But needed to save the world all at once. To make his life meaningful.

Until hit him at this moment. He now understood. He didn’t need to change the world on a grand scale and do so in one night. All he needed to do was change it for one person.

How do you change the world? The answer was clear, one person at a time. Who then changes it for another, who passes that on to another. Slowly but surely, one good deed and act becomes thousands, then millions, then billions.

But it must start with one. Jake had found his purpose, his meaning. He’d change the world by helping one person at a time.

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