A couple of weeks ago we were in Bolzano, in the Italian Alps. Wandering around the city I was caught up in taking snapshots, including this one of a man engrossed with his laptop. The image is not one of my best but there is a reason for not having deleted it. It memorializes a moment: right after I took the shot, for some reason, I felt in my pocket for my wallet. Oh no! It was gone. You know that feeling of horror, of disbelief, when you lose your wallet?
A chunk of my life was in the wallet, but it seemed hopeless to try to find it. With visions of international hassles canceling credit cards and the like, we started to retrace out steps. After several minutes, I saw across the Piazza a man approaching an empty bench that we had been sitting on earlier. That it is was unoccupied was odd: this was late afternoon and the nearby bus stops were bustling with people waiting for buses home. The man reached for something on the bench and grabbed what looked to be my wallet, opening it. I yelled at him and he stared at me and, as I hobbled toward him with my crutch, he walked toward me. He was what we would call in San Francisco “homeless”- shabby, torn clothes, barefoot, dirty, smelling a bit. But he had a lovely smile as he pushed my wallet into my hand.
I felt joy, and in that moment I reached to his face, touched it and thanked him. I tried to give him several euros of change, which he initially resisted. I called him a “good man” and he shambled off, while the many people standing by shook their heads, smiled, or ignored us. After a few moments, I realized that his good turn deserved more than a few coins and I hobbled quickly after him to give him a 20 Euro bill. I hugged him. Passers by looked horrified: we saw almost no homeless people in Italy and this part of town was pretty fancy, so I assume that the sight of a man with a crutch hugging a tramp was odd.
He told me that I was “un uomo buono“, a good man.
His goodness was better than mine. He could have run off with my wallet, or argued about it being his, or held to a “finder’s keeper’s” common law. But he didn’t and his goodness filled our afternoon and made us love Bolzano even more.