Larry DePrimo

You’ve probably heard about New York police officer Larry DePrimo this week. His act of kindness was caught on camera by a tourist in Times Square two weeks ago and, after it had been posted on the NYPD’s Facebook page earlier this week, has now been shared more than 130,000 times and, naturally, picked up by the world’s media.

If you haven’t heard about him, he’s an officer who, noticing a homeless man, barefoot, took it upon himself to buy him a pair of boots. He said he had been inspired by his grandfather who had told him as a boy, ‘If you are going to do something, do it 100 per cent. And do it, or don’t do it at all.’

What good advice and words we could all do well to remember.

Wait, I know exactly what the cynics among you are thinking: it’s all a hoax; the homeless man has done this before and has similarly conned others; it’s a bit rich praising the New York Police considering that successive New York mayors want rid of the city’s rough sleepers, etc.

But I want to take two things from the story and it’s not cynicism.

OK, three things and I’ll get all the scorn and scepticism out of the way quickly because it’s not the most important thing here. I admit, I did think how very refreshing it is to read something positive about the police for a change. You never know, next we might read a story about a Bull Terrier, not mauling a child but actually smothering his best friend with kisses. Or a hood-wearing teen, not mugging a pensioner but simply helping the old dear across the road of the sink estate they share. Stranger things have happened… I think.

The first thing is, how sad that both the police officer and the unwitting tourist who captured his act of kindness have been besieged by press. Aren’t there other people doing good deeds? Aren’t they taking something away from this genuine show of compassion by rolling out the pedestal and pushing them up it, whether they want to be up there or not? I realise it’s better for journalists to write feel-good pieces that make us all gush rather than arranging for phones to be hacked and families of celebrities to be harassed, obviously (what, too soon?), but I’m sure if they looked they’d find Good Samaritans in almost every town and village. If they tried, maybe they could even find a way to suitably honour these people’s noble efforts without trying to ferociously turn them into heroes against their will.

The second thing is, is it really asking too much for any one of us to take a few moments out of our busy lives to buy that person we see most days as we rush through the bus station a hot drink? To offer a cigarette? Hell, to simply smile and exchange pleasantries? Of course it’s not and shame on us all for hurrying by, pretending we don’t see.

As this kind-hearted police officer has said into flashing cameras and dozens of microphones this week, however bad things seem sometimes, someone, somewhere, always has it much worse. His deed serves as a timely reminder that we are all more fortunate than we often realise. I hate the expression “pay it forward” so much, but we should. (Pay it forward, I mean, not hate the expression. Although it is a horrible expression.)

How proud Officer DePrimo’s parents must be feeling. He takes home a modest salary for doing a difficult job. He should be on that pedestal, if only for a short while and only until he and he alone chooses to step down from it. I hope he has inspired you to consider somebody less fortunate; perhaps to check on that elderly neighbour who rarely gets any visitors, to see if he or she needs anything this weekend now that the weather is getting colder. It’s nothing, really, but to somebody who feels that society has forgotten about them, it would mean the world.

Any one of us could someday find ourselves alone, homeless or housebound, lonely and afraid, should fate and circumstance decide it. We shouldn’t forget that.

That’s all I wanted to say.

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I leave you with the Christmas advert from homelessness charity, Crisis.