The neatly lettered cardboard sign read "Need Help". It was held by a man at the exit of the grocery store parking lot. He looked to be at least in his 60's or maybe his weathered look was simply the toll of the years on his thin frame. Although he held the sign upright so it was readable, his eyes were downcast and only occasionally looked up to scan the lineup of cars waiting for the traffic light to change. I had seen others at this exit in the past, people whose stories I could only imagine but never truly understand. I would feel sympathy for their need to stand waiting for someone to hand them money but never before had I been so drawn to the individual.
What was it about this older man whose eyes, when they met mine, seemed filled with kindness and sorrow? Quickly, I did all I could do…roll down the car window and hand him the few dollar bills I had in my wallet. His eyes lit up as he said "Thank you…bless you!". My eyes teared up as I drove away wishing I had more with me to give but, even more so, wishing I knew his story and what circumstance led this man to ever need to beg for assistance. For the first time, my less empathetic side didn't well up…the one that previously might question those circumstances. Why would it matter if he was in this situation due to choices he had made in the past? I was embarrassed…could it be that I have some biases that I have kept pretty well buried?
The very next week, as I was traveling through the grocery store intersection, the man seemed to emerge from nowhere. I didn't have time to slow down but I knew I had to go back even before I looked to see if I had anything to give him. This was so unlike me, but I circled back around and pulled up to the gentleman, even though the traffic light was green, to hand him the dollars I had. This time I looked directly into his eyes and was overwhelmed with the kindness I found there. Not rushing, he smiled and softly said "Go…With…God".
I have not seen the man since although I would love to. This unexpected visitor to my life has given me much to consider through a few brief encounters. Clearly, it was less about what I could do for him and all about what he did for me that day…he gave me the gift of awareness. Though sometimes painful, it's a gift indeed.
Photo Credit: Roxanne O'Reilly