Glutton for Punishment / by Courtney Mehlhaff

No good deed goes unpunished.

I was reminded of that phrase recently when thinking of a friend who noticed his neighbor's house was on fire and ran up their back steps to alert the residents of danger. In the process, he slipped on a patch of ice and broke his hand.

The phrase also flashed in my mind when I encountered what appeared to be a homeless man lounging in the stairwell of an event center as I left work. The walk to my parking garage took me past people like this on a semi-regular basis, and because there were several vending machines nearby, I often returned with something for them to eat or drink. Sometimes it was as simple as leaving a bottled water and a banana for a man curled up sleeping on a window ledge. But in this case, there was a conversation.

The guy in the event center took me up on my offer to get him a soda, and then began demanding that it be Sprite. And even though my first instinct was to think "Beggars can't be choosers," I also thought, "Well, sir, you're sprawled in a stairwell and wearing a full application of bright red lipstick, so you've definitely had a harder day than me. Like, you're really going through something here." So I told him I'd do my best to get him a Sprite.

Of course there was no Sprite in the vending machines. I can't remember what I got him instead, but it involved one machine breaking entirely and the other refusing my credit card swipe, and by the time I returned, the man was gone. So I took the soda home. And forgot it in the car. And because it was winter, it froze and exploded in my front seat.

No good deed.

But we keep doing them. Because the smallest acts of kindness accumulate; they keep the scales from tipping toward the negative. And sometimes they mean the world to just one person.

When I moved into my house a few months ago, I brought with me a sign that reads "Hate Has No Home Here" in several different languages. I hung it on my front door and hadn't given it much thought since.

A couple weeks ago, I ordered food from a delivery service, and when I opened the door to greet the driver, he didn't respond right away. I was puzzled until he said, in broken English, "I was just reading your sign."

He handed me my food and I thanked him, and still he stood for a few moments longer. Then he looked at me as if he were about to cry and said, "I really like your sign."

I said something like "Oh, I'm so glad," when what I wanted to do was just hug him. And I don't know if my sign balanced out the house down the street, whose cars are plastered with gigantic Trump decals. But I do know that even if this guy saw their message first, he saw mine, too.