Put yourself in this position: You’re 55 years old, homeless and living on a brick street corner in Kansas City, MO. It’s been an especially cold February, and the prairie wind is typically relentless. You’re a good enough guy, and everyone who takes the time to talk to you walks away with a day slightly brighter for it. You keep your plastic, orange change cup handy, because whatever’s in it determines what you eat by the end of the day. But whether anyone drops a coin in it or not, you still leave them with a smile, a laugh and a “God Bless!”
Now, imagine one day a pretty blonde (named appropriately, Sarah Darling) stops quickly to drop some change in your cup, and a handful of quarters and dimes ring merrily into the bottom. The unknown woman parts with a smile, and you leave her with your usual thanks. You don’t look down to see how much she left…whatever’s there is better than the nothing you had before.
Later that day, you dump the cold change from the cup into your hand…you’re hungry, and it’s time to see what you can afford. In the pile of coins, you see a piece of costume jewelry unlike any you’ve seen before. The metal is light and silver, the stone large enough to be fake. A thrill of hope shoots through your mind, but you don’t dare give it voice. Hope has failed you more than once. But you can’t help but think…what if? What if…maybe? What do I do now?
What would you do?
If you’re like Billy Ray Harris, you start thinking. You take the ring to a friend who deals in jewelry to have it appraised. Reality seems to shift a little to the left when you hear the news. This is no piece of costume jewelry, the platinum and diamonds are real, and it’s worth…4,000 DOLLARS! You’re immediately suspicious that your friend is messing with you, but those suspicions vaporize as your friend hungrily offers you the $4,000 on the spot. It’s right there. You can almost feel the warm, $100-dollar bills in your hand. You try to remember the last time you’d seen that much money. The change in your pocket is a chilly reminder of how little you have.
As beautiful as that money is, you don’t see money in that platinum and diamond ring. You see a roof over your head. You see a warm, dry room out of the wind. You see a refrigerator stocked with food, and a cupboard overflowing with all the things you’ve laid awake craving. You smell a warm meal, and your salivary glands kick into overdrive as you imagine it. You see a car, a new pair of shoes, and some soft, clean socks from Wal-Mart. But above all, you hear a glittering promise in the twinkling voice of platinum and diamonds. “I could change your life.” By this time tomorrow, you could be 1,000 miles away, with nothing but the future ahead of you.
Somehow, you turn away…for now. You have to think. That night, you sleep less than usual. The cold bricks of the Kansas City sidewalk feel especially hard. The life you’d imagined plays through your mind on and endless loop, and the platinum in your pocket whispers with a voice of its own.
“You’ve suffered enough, Billy Ray.
“You deserve this.
“Whatever you’ve done, this is God showing he forgives you. It’s over now.”
All the smiles. All the days in the hot Kansas City sun, the freezing winter nights. All the stray animals you’ve fed, the “God Blesses,” the “friends” who’ve forgotten about you. The family you haven’t spoken to in 16 years. The happiness you’ve given, the nights alone and hopeless, the thousand little good things you’ve done without expecting anything in return, and the endless, gnawing hunger. All those days begging just to eat, feeling less than a man. Feeling less than human when all those well-dressed people sneered, as they quickly scuttled into Cadillacs refusing to make eye contact. As though you were diseased, and contagious. The piercing, cold wind…
But you’ve held that little flame of hope. You kept your faith. You’ve trusted in God. You could be back in the dry warmth of Texas, by morning. You DESERVE this. Grandpa always said God gives good folks gifts, and you’re good. You’re good. You DESERVE this, Billy Ray.
Where would you be the next day?
Sarah Darling slept well that night. And her morning started fine enough, until the conspicuous absence of her ring hit her like a sledgehammer to the heart. Devastated by the loss of her ring, she spends days checking everywhere it might have come off. The bathroom sink, her car seats, her purse. It’s nowhere. Nowhere at all. She retraces her steps from the previous day. She doesn’t think of her instinctive act of kindness from the day before, so a few days pass before she thinks to go back to the street corner. It’s a longshot, but she can’t afford to leave any base uncovered. Out of options, she returns to the homeless guy’s corner, unwilling to hope, but going through the motions anyway.
Billy Ray Harris is there. He smiles, a little brighter than usual. While he hands her the ring back, on his weathered face is the expression of a man who for days fought the Devil in the dark…and won.
It’s a few months later, and Billy Ray has more than a much-needed warm room. He has a whole new life.
Following the incident with the ring, Sarah Darling and her husband Bill started an internet campaign intended to raise $1,000 for Billy Ray; partially as a reward for returning the ring, but mostly because (as humans) it hurt them to know a man this good had life this bad. After some initial coverage on the TODAY show, the story went viral, making national headlines. Over the course of three months, the couple beat their original $1,000 goal…
ABOUT 192 TIMES OVER.
To date, Billy Ray’s more than 8,300 supporters have donated over $192,000 dollars to help turn his life around. He’s put a down payment on a house. He has a new car…”new” meaning a lightly used, convertible Volkswagen Beetle. Soon, Billy Ray will add another vehicle to his growing fleet: a used pickup truck, which he will use to haul around a paint gun and a couple of ladders. Feeling like a man “feeling human again,” as he put it, Billy Ray is eager to rejoin the workforce and start his own house painting business.
Billy Ray’s national fame has brought him something else, too; after seeing her brother on television, Billy Ray’s sister got in contact with him. Reunited with his family, with the future he’s earned laid out before him, Billy Ray says he’s “Got it all.”
So, why didn’t he keep the ring? Why not sell it and move on, as most others would have done?
Because while his Grandpa told him that God gives gifts to the good, that being honest is part of being good. ( http://www.today.com/news/homeless-man-returning-engagement-ring-i-was-raised-be-honest-1C8405790 ) Billy Ray, humble as only a man who’s seen the side of life that he has can be, says:
“I’m not trying to say I’m no saint, but I ain’t no devil, either.”
There’s something in the human heart, some part of us that knows that the world is a better place because of people like Billy Ray Harris. More than greed, more than selfishness, more than love even…we need people like Billy Ray, and we need to give in to our drive to help them.
In a world where evil men trade on greed to become billionaires, and the worst among us manipulate love and loyalty to breed hate, seeing a truly good man rewarded for being good gives us hope for ourselves.
People like Billy Ray Harris show us the best we might be, if only we had the strength to be it.
Watch the report here: