Maybe it’s the time of year, but it’s a photo that can’t help but remind you somewhat of a manger scene: A kneeling New York City police officer in uniform, holding a pair of boots in front of a reclining shoeless man on a chilly sidewalk near Times Square.
At once, Officer Lawrence DePrimo can be seen both shepherd and wise man. He cares for the man before him who is leaning up against a storefront, and he brings him gifts, a pair of boots and some socks, valued at $75 and purchased by the officer at a nearby shoe store, the New York Times reported.
The picture has been something people have been talking about by the thousands and thousands online this week. According to the Times, on Nov. 14 a tourist from Florence, Ariz., who happens to be an employee of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, took the photo from a short distance away, then sent them to the New York Police Department, which posted the photo on its Facebook page.
Jennifer Foster told the Times that DePrimo’s act reminded her of the time many years ago when her father, a Phoenix police officer, bought a homeless man something to eat.
DePrimo is now a national celebrity, having made the rounds on the network morning shows Friday, and it’s easy to predict that he will be the subject of several Sunday sermons today. The national news media is, intentionally or not, painting DePrimo’s deed as an unusual warm gesture amid a world of cold nastiness.
And yet, as we acknowledge nothing but admiration for his kindness, DePrimo is not an exception to the rule. Certainly he is not an exception among first responders. Police officers on TV or in movies are nearly always depicted chasing bad guys, guns drawn, while firefighters are almost invariably shown kicking down doors and rushing in to battle huge blazes.
Much more typical for a police officer or a firefighter is the not-made-for-television assistance to the public — from giving directions to helping open a locked car to reuniting a scared, lost child with his or her parents, raising money to help a family in a crisis — and helping the homeless.
I’m sure Larry DePrimo wouldn’t mind my describing his obviously decent and noble deed as one not unlike many others his colleagues perform outside of a camera’s view.
Foster just happened to record a particularly pointed act of a kind performed by so many first responders every day. Maybe it’s not $75 boots, but to be there for those in need, from the smallest ways to the largest, is what these men and women commit themselves to when they put on their uniforms.
Outside of their being captured by a camera, we often don’t learn of their kind acts unless a police officer or firefighter dies in the line of duty. Then we learn of the charities and nonprofits — and the people — they helped without fanfare.
Of course, that this is the time of year many people think more about giving makes DePrimo’s story additionally inspiring.
Yet at the same time the photo of him went viral on the Internet, the nation was also abuzz about the Missouri and Arizona winners of Wednesday’s immense Powerball jackpot. Many already have expressed hope that these soon-to-be massively wealthy people would give of their windfall to the less fortunate.
Let’s hope these winners will have the wisdom to know what the right choices are.
But maybe it’s the biblical account of the widow’s mite that has me concentrating far more on the charity of people like Officer DePrimo. The Gospels tell the story that of all the people donating money — some of it in large amounts — publicly at a synagogue, it was the poor widow’s few cents that was the most precious gift, because it was all she had, while others’ gifts were from their excess.
As a young cop, DePrimo probably doesn’t earn very much. But that didn’t stop him from spending his own money to help this unfortunate old man.
He told CBS News he was inspired by his grandfather, who once advised him to do anything "100 percent," and to "do it, or don’t do it at all."
Out of all the hype and materialism of this season and all the talk of decline and fear that is an unfortunate part of it, we should remember that simple message. That, and, of course, "Whatever you did to these least brothers of mine, you did it to me."
Then it will have been a season in which we as a people did not decline, but advanced, and brightly.
Read Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Watch his video commentaries at eastvalleytribune.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.