The other evening I was on route home from being out of town for a week or so, and traveled past a small quaint town and decided to stop and have a light dinner before continuing on down the road.
After having been sitting, driving, in the car for several hours, it felt good to be walking around while taking in the new sights and sounds of this little seaside town. I noticed a few eating establishments and walked by several of them before deciding on what I wanted to eat and where I wanted to eat. Upon choosing, I turned myself around to go back to it. As I rounded a corner, I noticed an elderly gentleman sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk with a sign, whom I had not noticed before.
He seemed to be homeless and his sign seemed to indicate that he was in need of food or money. I actually didn’t read the sign, but for some reason, he knew that I “saw” him, because he thanked me out loud. For all I know, he might have thanked everyone who walked by, though I didn’t hear him before I rounded the corner, nor did I hear him thanking anyone else, as I walked away. His “thank you” rung in my ears as if it was not only said to me, but more specifically, directed at my heart.
The air was brisk, and as I walked into the eatery, I was happy to be in a warmer environment. I ordered my meal, and before long, it arrived and I ate with contentment and enjoyment, except for the fact that I kept thinking of the gentleman who “thanked” me.
Half way through my meal, I decided I had had all I needed, and since my meal was finger friendly and had come wrapped up in a wrapper. I had not touched half of the food and happily rewrapped the remaining portion of my meal, and headed out the door. I was on a mission to share my meal with the gentleman on the sidewalk.
Moments after I walked out of the eatery, as the people walking in between he and I cleared, I saw the and he saw me heading toward him. I headed straight for him holding this wrapped package like it was a gift. And in a way, it was, a gift from me to him. The food was still warm and a smile was coming over me much like happens to me when I am feeding my friends and family food that I have cooked for them with love when they are guests in my home, or sometimes, I in theirs.
I was experiencing a moment. The moment I was having however, and my experience was about to completely change however, because, three quarters of the distance into my walk toward the gentleman sitting on the sidewalk, my path was interrupted by three young men riding by me on skateboards. Upon seeing me holding this wrapped package, one of them stopped and said, “Sir, is that food?”
I have had strangers ask me for a lot of things, over the years, but I never recall a stranger ask me for food right out of my hands. I was sad and confused and I didn’t know what to do in that moment. The older gentleman had seen me walking toward him with what was obviously food. He had to know it was for him, and I just couldn’t not give it to him. I thought that would be cruel and inappropriate. Yet, the younger man looked visibly hungry especially as he was eyeing the wrapped up package in my hand. I was torn.
As I stood there for a split second, not sure what to do, the young man repeated himself, perhaps thinking I had not understood him the first time, only this time he looked at, and pointed at the package in my hand while speaking.
I, who am normally pretty eloquent, ended up mumbling something that I am sure was audibly unintelligible, but the young man knew exactly what I said, as I myself pointed to the older man and indicated that I was bringing the food to him.
While still contemplating what else I could do in this situation, like perhaps buy the young man something to eat, I had finally approached the man on the still sitting on the sidewalk. I started to offer my “gift” to the elderly man, and then the most beautiful thing happened. The elderly man, having seen the whole scene take place said, as he pointed to the young man, “Give it to him, he needs it more.”
The young man had been looking on, and once again, I had a moment wherein the experience that I thought I was having or going to have, changed again. Feeling the honestly, compassion, and conviction of his words and intent, and knowing exactly who me meant, I turned and walked toward the young man, and started walking toward him. I suspect, we were far enough away from each other, that he had not heard the older man speaking, had a sense of what was going on, only it visibly delighted him, and surprised him at the same time.
The surprises were not to end there. The young man quickly took the package of food, and then a split second later said, “No man, are you sure?” He turned to look at the elderly man, and started walking to him, and upon reaching him, with his arms stretched out, as gracefully as I had been holding the “gift,” offered him the food, insisting, he take it. The old man insisted just as vehemently in return, and in insisted he enjoy it.
The little plaza of shops, eateries and coffee houses, was at one point, full of “beautiful” people, but at that moment, all I saw was one of the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, two people who were both hungry and in need of food insisting that the other have the food that was offered to one of them.
The “gift” that I had given, had taken on a whole other meaning ended up being a gift for me and a lesson that I will never forget. As I started to “come back into the room,” so to speak, I started noticing that a small crowd had gathered to see what was going on. Perhaps they were expecting two homeless people to be fighting over food, and indeed they were, but not in the way one might think.
The thought occurred to me that I could easily buy one or the other food, and while standing there, I almost asked whoever was not going to end up with the meal, what they wanted to eat, so I could buy it for them. However, by this point, several other homeless people had also gathered having seen or heard the commotion. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to have bought all of them food, so I turned around and started to walk away.
Within me, I carried the gift that these two gentlemen had given me of their compassion toward each other, even in dire straits, and a resolve to further finding ways and means to help people through their current life and through their life changes. And as I walked away, from behind me, I hear a man yell out, “Thank you, Sir.” I turned to see who it was, and though the crowd and blocked my view of I could barely see the young man, in the distance behind me looking in my direction.
This time I knew he that he knew that I had seen him too, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt, that his “Thank you” was directed not only to me, but straight to my heart.