Every day that I drive past this particular spot there is a man that stands on the corner. He holds a cardboard sign which talks of peace and human connection and compassion. He is there every day, rain or shine. His clothes are worn thin and tattered on the edges. He wears the same dirty painters cap day in and day out. He smiles at everyone, even those who do not stop to offer him money, food, or kind words. He is like moving art to me.
At first I hesitated to stop my car for him. I had all of the typical warnings running through my head: he might hurt you, he just wants your money for booze, he’s scamming you, etc. On one particular day I simply felt compelled to stop. I rarely carry cash on me but that day I had a few dollars in my pocket so I pulled over and rolled down my window. I handed him the few one dollar bills I had and apologized that I did not have more to give him. He smiled a big toothless grin and thanked me. He bobbed his head a few times and said, “Bless you ma’am, God bless you.” I was touched by his seemingly genuine gratefulness and I felt my heart get a little lighter. After that day I stopped a few more times, whenever I had a couple of extra dollars in my purse. He was always thankful and always blessed me. I thought to myself, “this man, who seems to have so little, still finds it in his heart to offer me a blessing… I wish more people could be like that.”
When I told a few of my family members what I had been doing they were concerned that I was being taken as a fool by this man. I told them that it didn’t matter because I was doing what felt right. If he were scamming me then that would be on him, my conscience was clear. I told them that I was doing it because if the roles were reversed I would hope someone would stop for me. I feel that if we avoid helping others because we are afraid of being taken advantage of then many, many people will go unaided, their needs never getting met, and I could not play a role in that. I was trying to “be the change” that I want to see in the world.
A few months after my last offering was made (he wasn’t there as often), I was leaving the wine & liquor store with some party supplies when I locked eyes with the man from the corner. He immediately put his down in shame and darted his eyes away from mine. When he did look back at me I simply smiled at him, not just with the curve of my lips but with my eyes as well, so that he would realize there was no judgment, no anger, only one soul recognizing another. He seemed surprised by my reaction and mustered up the best grin he could find in that moment. I realized after that exchange that something had shifted in the core of my being. I used to be cynical about people’s intentions, always wondering what was “behind the curtain”. In the past I would have been angered that he was using the money he collected to purchase alcohol. I would have stood in judgment. None of those feeling were there in that moment. I realized that I did not know this man or his story. I did not know what journey he had been on or where his path was taking him. Who was I to judge another soul? I learned true compassion that day. I felt for this man and could only offer him a silent blessing and a smile as he wandered back out of the store, into the cold night, with a bottle in his hand.