background

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Lesson in Benevolence

I hear it, feel it, and immediately wish that it's not happening.  But it is--my tire has gone flat.  Drawing a deep breath, I quickly strategize, evalutatin my options.  Steering to the right toward the curb won't obstruct traffic, I reason.  So I ease the car onto the shoulder and begin looking for help.
On the sidewalk are hurrying pedestrians, some talking on cell phones, others deep in thought--all of them too preoccupied to notice my fate.  On the road cars speed past with drivers rushing frantically to their varied destinations.
Silently I pray, "Father, send someone. Anyone!"
Momentarily I'm distracted by two familiar figures just a few feet away--a woman and a young child.  The woman, dressed in an ankle-length jean skirt and faded yellow blouse, displays a homemade sign with crooked letters in bold black that spell "Homeless" followed by the words "Please help."  The child, a litle girl who looks to be about five, clings to the woman's skirt and holds a Raggedy Ann doll.  They've been standing on the corner now for at least four weeks, collecting change in a tin can from pedestrians and passing motorists who happen to be stopped by the intersection's traffic light.  I, too, have dropped change or an occasional dollar into the woman's can, reasoning, like so many others, that these two need help.
Then I remember that a man, lean and balding, with a similar sign hanging from a rope around his neck shares the same corner. But today he's missing, and despite my own troubles, I wonder for a moment where he might be.  Soon honking horns disrupt my wandering thoughts and force me back to my present dilemma.  Observing no available assistance, I walk to my car's trunk, hoping and praying that someone might stop.
"Need some help?" I hear over my shoulder.
Turning t omy left, I see him-- the man bearing the homeless sign.  I look him over and try not to appear startled.  I reflect on his daily request for help, which other people, including me, have selectively ignored.  His tenor voice repeats the question, clearly the offer I've been waiting for.
I back away from the trunk and allow him to open it.  It is an awkward moment, but I permit a weak "Thank you" to pass my lips.
A closer look at the man's features suggests that he is actually prematurely bald and much younger than I had always thought.  he is nearly six feet tall with a considerably lean frame and has a limp.  There are holes in the knees of his jeans and in his faded green T-shirt.
"I...I appreciate your help," I say, breaking the silence between us.  He nods, and I wait for permission to continue.  He never looks up from his work, so again I speak up, adding, "Thank you again for changing my tire."  After more silence, I muster more courage. "I've seen you at this corner for a while."  This time I wait, hopeing he will say something--anything to indicate that he's heard me.
This time my wait is short and rewarded with a sour, "I've seen you too!"  His tone suggests that more is coming, so I wait for an indictment to pass his lips.  But when no such accusation surfaces, my thoughts shift, and I ask if he lives in a shelter.
This time he looks up, briefly catching my eye, and I think twice about what I've asked.  This answer is even shorter than the last-- a polite, "No, ma'am."  After a seemingly long pause, he continues, " I lost my job more than si months ago, and do to a chain of bad luck, well, I--" he stutters--"well, I...I ended up on the streets."
"What kind of work do you do, or did you do?" I ask.
He proudly responds, "I'm a mechanic."
"I take it you've been looking." I stoop to catch his eye as he continues to work.
"Yep, every day.  But with no fixed address or phone, it makes it hard for folks to get back to you.  Where they gunna call, if they want to hire you?"
He pauses as if deep in thought, then adds, "Folks that come through here every day probably think I can do better.  But ma'am, I'm trying, I'm really trying."
He finishes changing the tire, pats his hands on his already dirty jeans, and closes the car's trunk.
I fish though my purse looking for a dollar or two, but instead I decide to empty my wallet and give him all its contents-- $15.00.
He smiles, saying, "I'm not charging you."
"I know," I answer, "but I insist that you take the money." After much urging, he thrusts the bills into a pocket and starts to walk away.
I again say thanks but motion for him to wait while I ask one more question. "Why did you coose to help me, when I've rarely helped you?"  He looks at me, and without batting an eye answer, "'Cause it's the right thing to do."  With that, he walks back to his street corner,  and I drive away, knowing that I'm not the same.
The next day, I see him.  He smiles, and we talk while waiting for the light to turn green.  Before leaving the intersection, I drop a dollar bill in his cup.  He says thanks.
The following day I do the same, and the next day too.  On week two of this new routine, I leave a bag of fruit and a sandwich.  He again says thanks.   This continues for another two months.  Then one day he tells me that he has a job and will start the following day.  I wish hiim well and see him no more.  And again-- I'm not the same.
--Yvonne Curry Smallwood

This story really hit me.  It reminds me of the story of the good Samaritan.  It came from A Cup of Comfort for Christians ...I got this book at the Dollar General. (good investment)