He wasn’t holding a sign.
Perhaps that’s what caught my attention.
In my area, it’s not uncommon to see someone standing by the side of the freeway holding a sign, asking for food or money. But this man wasn’t holding a sign. He wasn’t standing up and looking people in the eye. He was sitting on the ground with his head in his hands.
I had finished running my errands and I was on my way to pick my daughter up from school. I was on the opposite side of the intersection from this man with no way to get to him, and with my daughter waiting for me, I had no time to flip my car around. But I couldn’t help but watch him as I sat at the red light. Looking absolutely dejected, he was hunched over. I had never seen anyone look more desperately alone.
Suddenly his head popped up. He jumped up and headed for a truck. Although I couldn’t hear what happened, I’m guessing someone called to him, perhaps offering money. His face lit up a bit, his step turned hopeful …
And then the light turned green and the truck pulled away.
As he shuffled back to where he was sitting, looking absolutely broken, my heart spoke up. Help him.
My own light turned green. I headed to my daughter’s school and picked her up. I pulled out of the parking lot and had a decision to make: turn left towards home, or turn right and try to find that man?
It wasn’t much of a decision.
“Where are we going?” my kids asked.
“Well, guys, when I was driving a few minutes ago, I saw a man. He was sitting along by the side of the road, and he seemed like he needed help. Do you think we should go and try to find him?”
It took me a (rather embarrassingly) long time to find him. I tried to cut through a neighborhood to hop onto the frontage road and ended up getting completely turned around. But the time spent driving through neighborhoods was precious. I talked to my children and we speculated about that man. They asked me hard questions: Why is he there? Does he have a house? Does he have a family? I answered as honestly as I could, and I tried to bring the focus not on how he came to be in that place, but he simply that he was in that place. And that maybe what he needed very most was just to know that someone noticed him.
Finally we worked our way to him. I pulled my car close … and the light turned green. Luckily, there were no cars behind me. I called him over. He looked at me like I was crazy and asked if I knew the light was green. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that cars were coming. Having only a few seconds, I stammered, “I know, but I really wanted to give you this. I hope you have a good day.” The cars came up behind me, I handed him a blessing bag, and I drove away.
My kids were thrilled, full of the joy of service. “But Mom, what was in that bag?”
“Well, a few things. There was shampoo, soap, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. That way he can feel clean. There was some lotion in case his skin is dry – dry skin can hurt, so maybe it will help him feel better. And there are some quarters in there so he can buy a snack.”
“Or a house,” my three-year-old said calmly.
I started laughing.
Then I started crying.
How grateful I am for a child who believes, like I do, in the power of a few quarters.
How grateful I am for the beautiful innocence of this child, to believe that our few quarters would be enough to completely change this man’s world.
How I wish that our few quarters could have changed this man’s world.
But you know what? Perhaps my few quarters changed that man’s day.
Perhaps that man, who sat alone by the freeway, walked back to his spot on the ground feeling a little bit better about life. Maybe in a tiny way, I helped restore a little bit of his faith in humanity. Maybe the reason I felt so strongly impressed to help him was because he desperately needed to know that someone sees him. That he is not invisible.
Or maybe not.
Maybe I needed to stop not for him, but for us.
A few weeks later, my son and I were again driving to pick my daughter up from school. He was quiet, as he usually is in the car – he’s too busy hoping a big truck will drive by to waste time in idle chit chat. But suddenly …
“Mom! Look! That man! Does he need us?”
I looked out my window and saw a man sitting on the ground. He was waiting by the bus stop. He looked a bit tired, but certainly not dejected. He wasn’t asking for help – he was just waiting. I wouldn’t have even noticed him.
But my son did.
He noticed, and he asked, “Does he need us?”
If I had no other reason why, that would be reason enough for me to keep serving.
Because in this world that is so full of good, but also so full of need, there are opportunities all around us to help and to serve. No matter who we are or what position we are in, there is always, ALWAYS someone to help.
We just have to notice them.
Let’s learn from my son.
Let’s start noticing.