Validating acts of charity

When strangers do selfless acts for others – should we validate it on social media? – A ‘ThinkWithCancer’ piece.

By Billy C

I’ve been coming to the same cafe nearly every morning for 5 years, it’s a few doors up from my tiny little flat in Fitzroy. Non pretentious, old skool and a bit shabby. I like it that way.

Pretentious coffee serving with obligatory matte filter applied. Photo by Nathan Dumlao

It attracts the self proclaimed Fitzroyalty, musos, tortured artists, local businesses, winos, chatty Debbie Patty Cathy’s in from the country on a gawking tour, gym nuts, tradies, trendoids, and so on..

Day in day out the routine is solid, I people watch while reading work emails, often doing my infamous WFC days at the front table so I can judge people walking up Brunswick St.

But one thing that goes unnoticed, is the immense kindness and selfless acts of charity the staff at this cafe give out, done without fanfare or social media validation pleas.

3 times a week, two old men from the public houses come here for breakfast. Just eggs, sausage and toast with a coffee. Nothing fancy. Their names are Frank and Vincenzo. Both cranky and lonely widowers, unkempt and tired. But they have been coming here for 22 years. For the past 5, alone. The cafe only charges them $5 for their breakfast. They never say thank you, and nor should they.

Not our old men. Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

Every other day, a local fixture called ‘crow’ sits out front picking apart ciggie butts collected from the gutters, and rolls their own smokes. Dressed up like the star of a major movie of the same name, the cafe staff look up, wave and bring out a coffee, a large latte. They only charge $2. They don’t complain when crow starts smoking out front.

Then there’s young Susie, tired and washed out, a waste bag and PICC line discreetly tucked into her shoulder bag, she’s looking a little yellow today. But my gosh, her laugh is infectious. She’s finishing round 4 treatment 11 of chemo for a particularly aggressive lymphoma. “This is the last attempt, I’m done, do me in now” she says while cackling.
I pay for her chocolate cookie and the cafe shouts her green tea. “Girl you make us laugh, even though we should be making you laugh” says the owner to Susie.

A sweet treat for a sweet story. See what I did there?. Photo: picjumbo.

This place has stood the test of time, 27 years in the same spot. It’s seen it all. Only changed hands twice. The new owners, a mother daughter team do it tough. They’re not packed from open to close, but they have steady streams of foot traffic. They never bitch or moan, they just get on with it.

The fact they commit simple acts of kindness to balance karma is one of the most human and generous things I have witnessed. When I was doing it tough and very sick, I’d often have a cookie placed in my hand as I left with my coffee, with a dismissive wave off “forget it, enjoy it” other times they’d drop a sandwich at my place, just a few doors down, because I was too sick to move. Done with a smile, class and good humour.

Photo by Robert Baker on Unsplash

It got me thinking about the acts of charity and kindness businesses pull every day without making noise, I’m sure there’s lots of them. You can’t find them on social media, that would defeat the purpose of doing it quietly. But what stops us from making noise and championing their acts? Do we keep it our little secret?

I ask you this as you pick up your ethically sourced hand milked almond Spirulina chai latte and bring your iPhone X up to Instagram it, what’s this worth to you? How does this benefit someone else? And as you consider this, pay for someone else’s breakfast. Quietly. Leave.
Go on, I bloody well dare you.