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October 19 2008

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by Kelly Thomas

St. Augustine said, Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you.

I'm sitting in my favorite coffee shop staring into space, thinking about the world situation, the financial crisis, and the general overall dismal state of affairs.

I am slightly irritated as this very animated guy, with no front teeth, who is giving his opinions on man, God, and the universe, mostly to this thirty-something female who seems to be paying attention. He is slightly annoying, but intriquing, so no big deal. I'm texting, reading the paper, and emailing on my iPhone.

It is hard not to pay attention. The guy, despite his appearance, seems to have some good ideas; and, what is even more impressive, is that he quotes newspapers, books, etc. The person listening to him occasionally throws in a word. All very interesting. Finally he leaves after about an hour.

I wander by the willing listener and strike up a conversation. She is the director of a non-profit in the Haight(Haight Ashbury District, San Francisco). She tells me that her friend is probably the best read person she knows. His appearance belies his knowledge and she apologizes that they may have disturbed me. I say, no sweat and we continue in conversation.

What does your non-profit do? We counsel mostly the homeless and substance abusers. Who staffs your clinic? Mostly students who are getting hours toward certification. Where do you get your money? Well, mostly from our clients. They can't have too much. Well, we don't make much.

She adds that it is not quite what she expected to be doing when she graduated with a degree in Psychology from Berkeley. Why do you keep it up? Well, you get committed to your clients. I understand. Are you in here often? Most everyday. (She is as I've been back more frequently and have chatted with her). My observation is that she drinks one cup of coffee in the couple of hours she's there.

I have to leave and decide to say to her, Would you be offended if I contributed to a little coffee fund for you? She doesn't say anything. I give her $40 and say, thanks for all you're doing.

Being able to apply Augustine's philosophy is good , in my view. Although my daughter says to me, "Dad, a really good deed ought to be silent." Well, yes, but how would I be able to tell this story.

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